12 Août 2016
August 12, 2016
MATSUYAMA, Japan (Kyodo) -- Shikoku Electric Power Co. restarted a reactor at its Ikata power plant in western Japan on Friday, making it the fifth unit reactivated under tougher regulations set following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The No. 3 reactor at the plant in Ehime Prefecture is the only restarted unit in Japan that runs on uranium-plutonium mixed oxide, or MOX, fuel, as a court ordered Kansai Electric Power Co. in March to suspend two reactors at its Takahama plant after they resumed operations earlier this year, citing safety concerns.
MOX fuel, created from plutonium and uranium extracted from spent fuel, is a key component of the nuclear fuel recycle program pursued by the nuclear power industry and the government.
The government aims to bring reactors back online after the Fukushima crisis led to a nationwide halt of nuclear plants, as it plans to have nuclear power account for 20 to 22 percent of the country's total electricity supply in 2030 to cut greenhouse emissions and lower imported fuel costs.
The Ikata unit is expected to reach criticality, or a state of sustained nuclear chain reaction, on Saturday and begin generating and transmitting electricity on Monday before resuming commercial operation in early September for the first time since it was halted in April 2011 for regular inspection.
"We will take steps toward criticality and resumption of power generation with priority on ensuring safety," Shikoku Electric President Hayato Saeki said in a statement on Friday.
Meanwhile, around 70 residents and others opposing the reactor restart gathered around the seaside plant early Friday morning, chanting slogans such as "Don't contaminate the Seto Inland Sea," and "Stop the nuclear plant."
Junko Saima, a 72-year-old woman from Yawatahama, adjacent to the town hosting the plant, which is located on one side of a narrow peninsula, said, "I am nervous that some kind of accident may occur."
Opponents are concerned about the effectiveness of government-prepared evacuation plans in case of an accident and about potential major earthquakes that are not taken into account in the plans, while proponents are hailing the resumption as it could bring economic benefits.
The restart follows the reactivation of two reactors at Kyushu Electric Power Co.'s Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture last year and the brief run of the Nos. 3 and 4 units at Kansai Electric's Takahama complex in Fukui Prefecture.
The mayor of Ikata town and the governor of Ehime Prefecture have already given their consent to restart the No.3 reactor after regulators approved its restart in July last year.
In June, Shikoku Electric loaded nuclear fuel at the power plant eyeing to reboot it on July 26. However, reactivation was postponed due to problems with the reactor's cooling system.
A group of local residents filed a suit in May seeking an injunction to halt the restart arguing that a series of earthquakes that have hit nearby Kyushu Island in April could trigger quakes along the median tectonic line running close to the Ikata reactor.
The plant is about 170 kilometers east of Kumamoto Prefecture, the epicenter of the quakes.
Meanwhile, in Kagoshima, new Gov. Satoshi Mitazono is planning to ask Kyushu Electric to suspend the two reactivated reactors at the Sendai plant to double-check any safety impact on the units from the powerful earthquakes that hit neighboring Kumamoto in April.
The Ikata nuclear power plant in western Japan is set to restart on Friday. It will be the 3rd plant to go online under new regulations issued after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster.
Operator Shikoku Electric Power says it will restart the No.3 reactor very carefully. It has been idle for more than 5 years.
Inspectors from the Nuclear Regulation Authority have been joining workers at the Ikata plant in Ehime Prefecture in checking the control rod system. The rods, designed to contain nuclear fission reactions, are crucial in controlling the reactor.
The operator plans to remove the rods to resume operation of the reactor at around 9 AM as no problems have been found so far.
If the process goes as scheduled, the reactor is expected to achieve a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction by Saturday morning.
The utility plans to begin electricity generation and transmission to the grid on Monday, and start commercial operation early next month.
The reactor has been offline since it underwent a regular inspection one month after the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima. It had been in operation for about a year at that time.
The utility says the plant's workforce includes personnel who have no experience of reactor operation, and that even veteran workers have not rebooted reactors for a long time.
The firm says it will spend more than 20 hours, 5 hours longer than the previous time, to proceed with each step in achieving criticality of the reactor.
Two reactors at the Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, southern Japan, have been operating since last year.
Two reactors at the Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture, central Japan, were restarted earlier this year. But a court injunction has been suspending their operation.
Applications for restarting 21 other reactors at 14 nuclear plants across Japan are being checked at the Nuclear Regulation Authority.