Editorial: Tsuruga nuclear power plant

Steps for decommissioning of reactors must be discussed

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has made a bold decision on the Tsuruga nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture. This decision regarding the plant, which is operated by the Japan Atomic Power Company (JAPC), will carry great weight when considering the nation’s nuclear policy.

The decision involved a type of fault called a “crush zone” that lies directly below the No. 2 reactor. Five experts who conducted an on-site survey agreed that “it is highly likely that it is an active fault.”

Under the central government’s guidelines, a nuclear reactor must not be situated over an active fault. Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the NRA, said, “We cannot possibly conduct a safety review for the restart of operations.” That is only natural. Not only is restarting the reactor unthinkable, decommissioning it along with the aging No. 1 reactor is inevitable.

It is time to discuss specific steps for decommissioning.

Still, the mere thought that a nuclear power plant is sitting right on top of an active fault that could lead to a major earthquake fills us with dread. Had all of the nation’s nuclear power plants not been inspected in the wake of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant, the plant in Fukui would have been left as it was.

How did this happen? There is no doubt that the biggest reason is the sloppy, overly lenient surveys conducted by JAPC.

When it was in operation, Tsuruga’s No. 1 reactor was the oldest commercial reactor in the nation. The plant’s No. 2 reactor went into operation in 1987. At the time of the plant’s construction, the company was apparently aware of the crush zone at issue and another active fault on the premises.

But the company dismissed the matter, saying it was not a problem. No matter how you look at it, this is hard to comprehend. It was not until four years ago that the company officially acknowledged that outside experts had pointed out the existence of active faults on the plant premises. The company cannot escape criticism for minimizing the risks simply because the plant was already in operation.

At the same time, the government, which swallowed the power company’s line and neglected to conduct proper inspections, naturally bears a heavy responsibility. The pattern of collusion by the “nuclear village” can be seen in this as well.

JAPC apparently fought the NRA’s decision all the way because confirmation of an active fault would force the company to decommission the reactor, which, in turn, would jeopardize its operations. Some people have pointed out the impact that decommissioning would have on employment in the region and the finances of the city of Tsuruga. But those are not adequate reasons for neglecting safety.

From what we can see, the nation’s supply of electric power since last year’s earthquake is sufficient even without the Tsuruga nuclear power plant. In that sense as well, the planned No. 3 and 4 reactors are not necessary.

If the Tsuruga plant is decommissioned, it will serve as a model for getting rid of the nation’s nuclear power plants on the grounds of ensuring safety. In that sense, we are concerned that specific rules and procedures have not been put in place.

The central government and the NRA are empowered to prescribe whether or not nuclear power plants are put into operation, but decisions regarding decommissioning are left up to the companies that operate the plants. Can’t a mechanism be created by which the government can at its own responsibility order decommissioning in some cases? How the public and private sectors will bear the tremendous cost of decommissioning is another issue that cannot be avoided.

In the coming months the NRA will conduct studies of the risks of active faults at four more nuclear power plants. In particular, it has long been suspected that there is also an active fault directly below the Shika nuclear power plant in Ishikawa Prefecture, which is operated by Hokuriku Electric Power Company. We would like the NRA to take a similarly hard look at the situation there.

A fault was found at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, which is operated by Kansai Electric Power Company, but whether it is active or not remains unclear. We would like to see the plant halted and a full-scale study conducted.

Furthermore, these studies should be broadened to include all of the nation’s nuclear power plants. Why were so many nuclear power plants built in the Japanese archipelago, which is crisscrossed by active faults? Past safety reviews must be thoroughly examined to determine whether or not they were flawed.

(Originally published on December 12, 2012)