Reactor restart status in Japan: Still zero nuclear reactors operating in East Japan

9 reactors set to restart but…

Fifty four nuclear reactors were operating in Japan prior to the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident.

After the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident in 2011, all reactors owned by TEPCO and Tohoku Electric Power Co. were halted, and this situation with zero nuclear power generation in East Japan has already continued for nine years.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority was established in September 2012. New regulatory requirements were adopted in July 2013, so if a power utility wants to restart a reactor it is now required to undergo a safety screening by the NRA based on the new regulations. After Kansai Electric Power Co. shut down Ohi No. 3 and No. 4 in September 2013, not a single nuclear reactor was operating nationwide, resulting in a period of nearly two years with zero nuclear power generation. Then in August 2015, Kyushu Electric Power Co. restarted its Sendai No. 1 reactor (Kagoshima Prefecture). As of February 10, 2020, nine reactors had met the regulatory requirements and restarted: Sendai No 1 and No. 2, Genkai No. 3 and No. 4, Ikata No. 3, Ohi No. 3 and No. 4, and Takahama No. 3 and No. 4. Meanwhile, decisions had been made to decommission 19 other reactors. No reactors restarted in 2019. Nuclear power, which had accounted for about 30% of Japan’s total electricity generation prior to the accident, was still only at about 3% in 2017.

Meanwhile, four reactors that initially restarted at Sendai and Takahama nuclear power plants have to suspend operations in 2020 due to delays in the construction of anti-terrorism upgrades (specific safety facilities against specified major accidents).[1]

The No. 3 reactor at the Ikata nuclear plant was undergoing regular inspections, but a restart was blocked by a provisional injunction from the Hiroshima high court, so even after the regular inspections have been completed, the reactor cannot be restarted.

Six reactors have passed the NRA’s new regulatory requirements and have been approved to restart but have not yet been restarted.

Among them, Japan Atomic Power Co.’s Tokai No. 2 (Ibaraki Prefecture) has no prospects for gaining local consent. TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear power plant (Niigata Prefecture) reactors No. 6 and No. 7 have seen costs balloon to 1.169 trillion yen for safety upgrades required before restarting. For that nuclear plant, Niigata Prefecture is conducting its own reviews into the cause of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the impacts of a nuclear accident on health and livelihoods, and safe evacuation methods in the event of a nuclear accident. The prefectural government is saying that there will be no discussion about restarting the Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant until those three reviews are complete.

Damaged Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant No. 2 expected to pass safety screening, but Ishinomaki citizens petition for injunction to stop local consent process

The draft safety screening report was released by the NRA in December 2019 for Tohoku Electric Power Co.’s Onagawa nuclear power plant reactor No. 2 (Miyagi Prefecture), and it is expected to “pass” on February 26, 2020. Remaining hurdles include the approval of work plans, construction of safety upgrades, and obtaining local consent. If restarted, this will be the first reactor to restart in East Japan.

When the Tohoku earthquake and disaster struck in March 2011, the Onagawa nuclear power plant was struck by violent shaking and a 13-meter tsunami. Only one of the five external power supply lines survived and was barely able to maintain the supply of external power. Many facilities and equipment were damaged. A total of 1,130 cracks were found in the earthquake-resistant wall of the reactor building, and Tohoku Electric Power Co. had reported that the building’s strength (resistance to deformation) had been reduced by as much as 70%. Despite all of this, the draft screening report makes no mention of any repairs to damaged facilities and equipment or verification of the effectiveness of repairs.

Opposition to a reactor restart is very strong in the prefecture. A public opinion poll by the Kahoku Shimpo newspaper about the restart of Onagawa No. 2 found that 68.6% opposed the restart (total of responses either “oppose” or “somewhat opposed”).

In February 2019, the Citizens’ Group Demanding a Referendum on Restarting the Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant submitted about 110,000 signatures calling upon the prefectural assembly to pass an ordinance for a public referendum asking if citizens are for or against the reactor restart. But the request for a public referendum was rejected in March.

In November 2019, 17 residents of Ishinomaki living within 30 km of the Onagawa nuclear power plant filed a request with the Sendai District Court seeking a provisional injunction that would force Miyagi Prefecture and Ishinomaki City to stop the process of seeking local consent for the reactor restart, on the grounds that the wide-area evacuation plan in the event of a major accident, formulated by Ishinomaki City and other parties, was not realistic.

[1] Anti-terrorism facilities are included in the new regulatory standards and should normally be built prior to reactor restart, but a grace period was provided to “install within 5 years after construction plan approval.”