KK - 6 & 7: Unresolved Public Mistrust
Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) had hoped to begin commercial operation of Units 6 and 7 of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant (KK) in November, but it appears increasingly unlikely that it will be able to do so, due to the ever-increasing mistrust of the residents of Kashiwazaki City, Kariwa Village and Niigata Prefecture at large. The public is not satisfied with the deliberations of Niigata Prefecture's subcommittee looking into equipment integrity and earthquake resistance and safety. Furthermore, new information has emerged which calls into question TEPCO's corporate character.
1. As reported in NIT 132, on July 23, the day before KK-7 was scheduled to enter commercial operations, there was a leak of radioactivity in the reactor's primary circuit. It is suspected that the leak came from a damaged fuel rod. TEPCO decided to continue operating the plant carrying out power suppression testing, but in the end it was forced to shutdown the plant on September 26.
TEPCO identified a leaking fuel rod and investigated the cause of the damage. It discovered a 0.2mm thick 30mm long metal wire caught in a fuel rod spacer. Signs of abrasion were found on the adjacent fuel rod. TEPCO dismissed the incident, saying that it was a chance phenomenon that affects one in 160,000 fuel rods and that it was not caused by the earthquake. The abovementioned subcommittee accepted this explanation.
However, slight swelling of the fuel rod, believed to have been caused by absorption of hydrogen, was identified. This suggests that there was a small hole through which water entered. It is unclear whether it was caused by the metal wire. TEPCO only carried out observations using an underwater camera, ultra-sound tests and a fiberscope, so there is no conclusive evidence. Citizens are calling for TEPCO to remove the fuel assembly, so that the fuel rod can be checked directly. They are demanding that TEPCO clarify the cause of the problem and not just rely on speculation.
2. When TEPCO first requested permission to restart KK-7, the governor of Niigata Prefecture and the mayors of Kashiwazaki City and Kariwa Village attached four conditions to their approval. The conditions were based on the demand of the governor and mayors that top priority be given to the citizens' safety and freedom from anxiety of accidents and troubles.1 Their third and forth conditions were as follows:
- new information be actively accumulated and reflected in order to promote the citizens' safety and freedom from anxiety of accidents and troubles;
- serious efforts be made to improve the overall character of the power plant.
However, it is clear that no progress has been made on either of these conditions. Four people were injured in September and October this year and eleven fires have occurred at KK since the Chuetsu-oki Earthquake in July 2007. It is clear that TEPCO's fundamental character has not changed and that the public cannot feel free of anxiety.
3. In November it emerged that a pipe in KK-1 had been attached incorrectly ever since the plant was first constructed As a result, for 24 years since the plant began operating in 1985, the plant has been releasing radioactive tritium out to sea. It is suspected that the same applies to Units 2 and 5. Trust in TEPCO is as low as it can go. TEPCO failed to notice that the construction was not carried out in accordance with the design. Evidently TEPCO is incapable of managing a nuclear power plant, or of fixing its management structure. One must also ask questions about the competence of the Nuclear Industrial and Safety Agency. It is a very serious state of affairs.
Under these circumstances the local people are certainly not willing accept the restart of KK-6&7. The question of what if anything has actually been confirmed is shrouded in mist. The members of Niigata Prefecture's technical committee and its subcommittees are faced with a situation that they did not foresee. The reality is far removed from simply proceeding in a step-by-step fashion.
By Yukio Yamaguchi (CNIC Co-Director)
1. The words "anzen" and "anshin" have taken on great significance in the context of the restart of KK-6&7. The first word means "safety". In NIT 132 the second word was translated as "peace of mind". A reader from Niigata Prefecture pointed out that this translation does not capture the full significance of the word. In this edition we have adopted one of the alternative translations suggested by the reader. The citizens of Niigata Prefecture are concerned that insufficient attention is being given to their "anshin".
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