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Kansai nuclear reactors may face prolonged closure

14 Mar 2016 07:23 GMT
Kansai nuclear reactors may face prolonged closure

Kyoto, 14 March (Argus) — Japanese utility Kansai Electric Power may be forced to keep its two Takahama nuclear reactors closed for several months as it begins a legal battle to resume operations at the plant.

Kansai today lodged an appeal against a ruling issued by the Ohtsu district court in Shiga prefecture on 9 March that ordered the company to immediately shut its 870MW No. 3 reactor and halt work to restart the 870MW No. 4 reactor at Takahama in Fukui prefecture.

The utility today also filed a motion for a stay of execution of the injunction. "The ruling failed to respond to our argument and is extremely regrettable and utterly unacceptable," it said.

It is likely to take several months for the appeal court to reach a judgement. Kansai will be forced to keep the two Takahama reactors off line until a decision is made, and will face an even longer shutdown if the appeal judge upholds the injunction. It took Kansai eight months to overturn a similar injunction against the Takahama reactors issued in April last year by the Fukui district court.

Last week's ruling by the Ohtsu district court found in favour of 29 residents of Shiga prefecture who live within 70km of the Takahama plant, but do not stay within the plant's host communities — Takahama town and Fukui prefecture — and so lack the right to vote on any reactor restart. The residents' group in January last year filed a petition seeking the provisional order to block the restart of the Takahama reactors.

Kansai restarted the No. 3 reactor on 29 January and the No. 4 reactor on 26 February, after winning safety approval from the nuclear regulation authority (NRA) and obtaining local consent. A technical problem forced an automatic shutdown at the No. 4 reactor to only three days after it was restarted. Kansai has already brought both of the Takahama reactors to a state of cold shutdown as it anticipates an extended closure following the court ruling.

Last week's court ruling, coupled with the No. 4 reactor's technical problem, have revived criticism of Kansai's reactor operations and safety management. "It raises concerns and anxiety among residents in the host communities if reactors are repeatedly started up and shut down, even though it is a decision at a legal level," Fukui governor Issei Nishikawa said on 9 March, following the court decision.

And the problems are adding to uncertainty over the Japanese government's plan to revive the nuclear sector. Only two of the 43 remaining commercial reactors in Japan are now operating, more than 2½ years since new reactor safety regulations were introduced in July 2013 and five years after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident.

The post-Fukushima closure of nuclear reactors is likely to have boosted the country's thermal fuel costs by ¥15 trillion ($132bn) over the last five years. The use of LNG, coal and oil by Japan's 10 main utilities for power generation rose by 30pc to 53mn t, by 17pc to 59mn t and by 43pc to 250,000 b/d respectively in 2015, compared with levels in 2010 before the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Utility Shikoku Electric Power is working to restart the 890MW No. 3 reactor at its Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime prefecture, possibly in time for the peak summer power demand season. But local residents last week filed a fresh petition with the Hiroshima district court seeking the closure of the 2,022MW Ikata plant, which is located around 100km south of Hiroshima across Japan's inland sea.


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