Why restart old and damaged reactors?
In September 2018, the Nuclear Regulation Authority deemed that the Tokai No. 2 Nuclear Power Plant (Japan Atomic Power Co.) in Ibaraki Prefecture complied with new regulatory standards, and issued a permit to change facilities. In October it approved the construction plans, and in November approved the extension of operations for at least 40 more years. The process then advanced to the next stage, obtaining local consent. That’s because to restart the plant, Japan Atomic Power has to obtain prior consent not only from the village of Tokai (Tokaimura) but also five cities in the area.
Tokai No. 2 is an aged nuclear reactor that was in operation for over 40 years. The fact is, even if replaceable parts are replaced, safety risks increase over time. For Tokai No. 2, the authorities skipped the “40-year rule” that says that a nuclear power plant cannot be operated past 40 years unless it is exceptionally needed.
Tokai No. 2 was damaged by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011. For more than three days after the loss of external power, the reactor was effectively in cold shutdown and has not operated since then. A comprehensive verification of damage from the earthquake has not yet been done.
Not a single reactor has operated at any nuclear power plant in East Japan since the March 2011 disaster, but the electrical power supply has been stable. In 2018, Japan was hit by a record heat wave. Even during heavy power demand for air conditioning, the government made no public appeal to conserve electricity. About 960,000 people live within a radius of 30 km of the plant. There is no good reason to restart a dangerous aging and damaged nuclear power plant.
Safety concerns at Tokai No. 2
There are many safety concerns at this nuclear plant. Here are some of them:
- Of approximately 1,400 km of cables, only a portion of that length currently consists of fire retardant cable or is scheduled to be replaced with it in the future.
- The containment vessel of Tokai No. 2 is the MARK II design, which comes with the risk of a steam explosion if core melting occurs in the event of an accident. But the regulator’s safety screening deemed that risk could be ignored, so it has not even been taken into account.
- Up to 50 cm of volcanic ash could fall when Mount Akagi erupts. There are concerns about insufficient strength of reactor buildings to withstand the weight and the possible clogging of the diesel generators that would have to supply emergency power.
- The emergency response center does not have a seismic isolation structure.
- The Tokai Reprocessing Plant (currently in the process of being decommissioned) is storing high-level radioactive liquid waste and other materials in the vicinity. But there has been no consideration of responses there in the event of an accident at Tokai No. 2.
Big utilities pay a fortune to Japan Atomic Power, get zero electricity in return!
Japan Atomic Power Co. is a utility specializing in nuclear power generation, and it owns the Tokai Nuclear Power Plant, Tokai No. 2, and reactors No. 1 and No. 2 at the Tsuruga Nuclear Power Plant (Fukui Prefecture). A decision was made to decommission the Tokai Nuclear Power Plant and Tsuruga No. 1, and an active seismic fault has been found directly under Tsuruga No. 2.
Tokai No. 2 has not generated any electricity since 2012, but the company has been on life support with at least 100 billion yen in electricity revenues annually from TEPCO, Kansai Electric Power Co., Chubu Electric Power Co., Hokuriku Electric Power Co., and Tohoku Electric Power Co. The total for fiscal 2012 to 2018 comes to 844.2 billion yen. In other words, electricity users all over Japan—who have not received a single kilowatt-hour of electricity from Japan Atomic Power for years—are bearing the burden of keeping the company alive. TEPCO has paid the highest basic charges, a cumulative total of 371.3 billion yen from fiscal 2011 to 2018.
TEPCO and other utilities agree to support restart
It has been estimated that restarting Tokai No. 2 would cost about 250 billion yen for seawall construction and other safety measures, plus roughly 100 billion yen for anti-terrorism measures, bringing the total to 350 billion yen.
Japan Atomic Power cannot borrow from banks due to its financial situation, so it has sought financial assistance from TEPCO, Tohoku Electric Power, and Japan’s other major utilities.
In October 2019, TEPCO announced it would provide about 220 billion yen in financial assistance. With financial assistance expected from Tohoku Electric Power Co., Chubu Electric Power Co., Hokuriku Electric Power Co., and Kansai Electric Power Co., the total financial assistance from the major utilities would come to about 350 billion yen. TEPCO and Tohoku Electric reportedly will provide assistance via financing and loan guarantees for borrowing by Japan Atomic Power. TEPCO has already received a huge injection of public funds. But TEPCO needs to focus on compensation for the Fukushima accident and reactor decommissioning, so it is unthinkable that TEPCO would be providing financial assistance for the restart of Tokai No. 2.
Japan Atomic Power had an average annual net profit of 1.7 billion yen from 2003 to 2010 when Tsuruga Nuclear Power Plant Units 1 and 2 and Tokai No. 2 were in operation, and an average annual loss was 1.7 billion yen from 2011 to 2018 (after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami). Even if it were possible to return to the 2003 to 2010 level of surpluses, it would take more than 200 years to cover the additional safety and security costs. But at most, the Tokai No. 2 nuclear plant could operate for another 18 years, so there is no economic logic to the decision to restart the reactor.
FoE Japan activities
In November 2018, we delivered 10,077 petition signatures to TEPCO, METI and the Nuclear Regulation Authority calling on them halt economic support for Japan Atomic Power for the restart of Tokai No. 2, and asking the NRA not to approve the restart of Tokai No. 2. In addition, with 351 citizens from Tokyo, Ibaraki Prefecture, Fukushima Prefecture and elsewhere, we filed a dispute under the Administrative Complaint Review Act to request a formal review and called on the government to cancel its facilities change approval at Tokai No. 2, on the basis that Japan Atomic Power does not have the required financial capacity. In September 2019, we held a symposium at Ibaraki University focusing on the problems with evacuation plans and initial radiation exposure, with Mizue Kanno as guest speaker (evacuee from the town of Namie). In November, with local citizens’ groups, we submitted a petition and met with Ibaraki Prefecture officials regarding the distribution of iodine tablets and evacuation of persons needing assistance.
 Japan Atomic Power initially said the safety measures would cost about 174 billion yen, but estimates from general contractors came in much higher.
 Source: Financial reports from Japan Atomic Power Co.