Japan to reopen 1st nuclear plant after Fukushima disaster - despite volcano risks

Japan to reopen 1st nuclear plant after Fukushima disaster - despite volcano risks
A local council has voted to re-open the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant on the outermost western coast of Japan, despite local opposition and meteorologists’ warnings, following tremors in a nearby volcano.

Nineteen out of 26 members of the city council of Satsumasendai approved the reopening that is scheduled to take place from early 2015. Like all of Japan’s 48 functional reactors, Sendai’s 890 MW generators were mothballed in the months following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Satsumasendai, a town of 100,000 people, relies heavily on state subsidies and jobs, which are dependent on the continuing operation of the plant.

But other towns, located within sight of the plant, do not reap the same benefits, yet say they are being exposed to the same risks. A survey conducted by the local Minami-Nippon Shimbun newspaper earlier this year said that overall, 60 percent of those in the region were in favor of Sendai staying shut. In Ichikikushikino, a 30,000-strong community just 5 kilometers away, more than half of the population signed a petition opposing the restart. Fewer than half of the major businesses in the region reported that they backed a reopening, despite potential economic benefits.

Regional governor Yuichiro Ito has waved away the objections, insisting that only the city in which the plant is located is entitled to make the decision.

While most fears have centered around a lack of transparency and inadequate evacuation plans, Sendai is also located near the volcanically active Kirishima mountain range. Mount Ioyama, located just 65 kilometers away from the plant, has been experiencing tremors in recent weeks, prompting the Meteorological Agency to issue a warning. The government’s nuclear agency has dismissed volcanic risks over Sendai’s lifetime as “negligible,” however.

Mount Ioyama (image from blogs.yahoo.co.jp)Satsumasendai’s Mayor Hideo Iwakiri welcomed the reopening, but said at the ensuing press conference that it would fall upon the government to ensure a repeat of the accident that damaged Fukushima, an outdated facility subject to loose oversight, is impossible.

September’s decision to initiate the return Japan’s nuclear capacity back online was taken by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who endorses nuclear production in the country, but has delegated the controversial call on reopening to local councils. Sendai was chosen after becoming the first plant to officially fulfill the government’s new stricter safety rules. It may also have been picked due to its geographical remoteness, and distance from the 2011 disaster area.

The primary reason for Abe’s nuclear drive been the expense in replacing the lost energy that constituted 30 percent of the country’s consumption, which the government says cost Japan an extra $35 billion last year. Japanese consumers have seen their energy bills climb by 20 percent since the disaster as a result.

But another concern remains the state of the country’s aging nuclear plants, which will cost $12 billion to upgrade. Meanwhile plans to build modern nuclear reactors – which were supposed to be responsible for half of the country’s nuclear power by 2030, according to previous government energy plans – have predictably been shelved in the wake of the disaster.

Fukushima dome removal suspended

The painfully slow and calamitous decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, in the northeast of the country, had to be halted yet again Tuesday, after the removal of the temporary dome over the damaged Reactor 1 was interrupted by severe winds.

The canopy needs to be taken off so that the radioactive reactor rods, which have been contaminating the soil and water around the plant, can be placed in storage.

AFP Photo / Pool / Kimimasa Mayama

But as workers attempted to lift a section of the plastic dome to decontaminate the air inside, a segment of the cover up to six feet was blown off by a severe gust of wind.

Tokyo Electric Power Company, TEPCO, the operator of the shuttered plant, says that the incident has not impacted radiation levels, and hopes to resume operations as soon as possible.