Nuclear Power Simply Cannot be Relied on

By Baku Nishio (CNIC Co-Director)

On November 3, 2020, Unit 4 of the Ohi Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) began a regular maintenance inspection, which meant that all four of Kansai Electric Power Company’s (Kanden’s) operable nuclear reactors were offline. Eight out of the nine nuclear reactors that have been judged to be in compliance with the new regulatory standards are currently shut down, leaving only Kyushu Electric Power Company’s Genkai NPP Unit 4 operating. This reactor is scheduled to go offline for a regular maintenance inspection in December, but as Genkai NPP Unit 3 will complete its regular maintenance inspection and be restarted before that, a situation where zero nuclear reactors are operating will be avoided. Further, the different power companies have also been rushing to complete the construction work necessary to meet the requirement for “facilities for responding to specific serious accidents, etc.” (anti-terrorism safety measures) and thus the Sendai NPP Unit 1 will be restarted on November 19. Sendai NPP Unit 2 and Kanden’s Takahama NPP Unit 2 will also, according to reports, be restarted in December. Provided there is no problem, it now looks as if these four reactors will be operating by the end of the year. A situation where only one nuclear reactor was in operation will thus come to an end after only about two weeks.


Even so, it was not expected at the beginning of 2020 that this situation would occur. Very early in the new year, however, an interim injunction to halt Ikata NPP Unit 1, Shikoku Electric Power Company’s sole nuclear power plant, was handed down by the Hiroshima High Court on January 17. Takahama NPP Unit 3 completed its regular maintenance inspection on April 10, and it was intended to restart the reactor by August 3, the deadline for the measures related to the “facilities for responding to specific serious accidents, etc.” However, the reactor was forced to remain shut down when it proved impossible to clarify the cause of damage to steam generator heat transfer tubes discovered in February.


Kanden then continued to operate Ohi NPP Unit 3 by postponing the regular maintenance inspection from May 8 to July 20, citing measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. On August 31, during that regular maintenance inspection, abnormalities were discovered in the pressurizer spray line piping, fissures being confirmed on September 7. On October 19, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), at a Public Meeting on Reactors for Practical Power Generation, refused to recognize Kanden’s insistence that it would refit the piping at the next maintenance inspection, leaving Kanden with no option but to extend the current regular maintenance inspection.


On November 4, Kyodo News Service distributed an article under the title of “Unstable Nuclear Power Plant Operation Situation is Far Removed from the Government’s Concept of Positioning Nuclear Power as an ‘Important Baseload Power Supply.’”


Originally, Kanden announced that they planned to restart Takahama NPP Unit 1 in May and Mihama NPP Unit 3 in July, but neither will be restarted during 2020, the restarts having been postponed till March and January, respectively. Continuing on from 2019, this means that there will have been no new restarts in 2020, another point in which expectations held at the beginning of the year have collapsed.


Nevertheless, this is not the first time that we have found that nuclear power cannot be relied upon. On January 18, at the time of the interim injunction to halt Ikata NPP Unit 3, the Sankei Shimbun stated, “Nuclear power generation, positioned as a “stable power supply” in the government’s energy policy, has been confronted with the difficulties inherent in performing that role.”


Of course, this is nothing especially new. Interim injunctions have been handed down a number of times, and shutdowns due to accidents have become more frequent, and, moreover, occur out of the blue without warning. Furthermore, even if accidents do not occur at nuclear power plants, abnormalities in the power distribution system cause nuclear power plants to be shut down in order to avert accidents. Power transmission over long distances, due to the construction of nuclear power plants far from the mass consumption areas, causes voltages to be unstable, and large-scale blackouts in the capital area have occurred when power transmission is halted. It is not unusual to see two or more nuclear power stations, with their complex generation systems, shut down simultaneously when an earthquake, etc. occurs. Moreover, since nuclear power stations require safety inspections, once they shut down getting them restarted takes time. When nuclear power stations, with their huge power output, cease generating, they become unable to perform their role as the “stable power supply” or “baseload power,” opening up big gaps in power supply.


Speaking of not being able to rely on nuclear power, the 3rd Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in Kyoto in December 1997, adopted the Kyoto Protocol, in which the Japanese government stated it would complete the construction of 21 new nuclear reactors by fiscal year 2010. Of these, plans for eight reactors have been scrapped, eight are under construction or still in the planning stages, and five began operations, but are now all currently shut down.


It has thus long since been proven that the reduction of CO2 emissions by nuclear power is nothing but a sick joke.



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