As was reported here last week, Kagoshima Prefecture (Japan) Governor Satoshi Mitazono, who was elected to this office in July after running on a solidly anti-nuclear-energy ticket, made a formal request to Kyushu Electric Power on August 26. Further significant events have now transpired.
The expectation quite broadly among media and industry was that Kyushu Electric Power would reject the request to shut down the Sendai nuclear plant; this is exactly what occurred. On September 5, Michiaki Uriu, President of Kyushu Electric Power, handed Governor Mitazono the formal response of his company wherein it was stated that the company would not accede to the request, as reported by Asahi Shimbun.
Kyushu Electric Power wrote in its official release on the response to Mitazono that at the time of the Kumamoto earthquake in April, it conducted an immediate inspection of the plant and discovered no abnormalities. The company also reported that the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), in a special meeting on April 18, found that “from a scientific and technical point of view” that there was no need to shut down the Sendai nuclear plant. As a result of these findings, Kyushu elected to refuse the request to shut down the plant.
The company will perform additional checks above and beyond those required by the NRA when it shuts the units down for their periodic inspections late this year, according to its release. The reactor vessel will have checks for foreign matter and deformation; the control rod drive and rod position indication will be checked, particularly for cable connection deformation; the steam generators will have checks performed of the tube supports. The containment spray piping will have its supports examined, and the containment penetrations for the spray system will be inspected. The spent fuel pool storage racks will be checked for deformation, as will all pool cooling piping. Racks for storage of new fuel will also be checked. All of these above mentioned specific checks are in addition to, and supplemental to the checks already to be performed by established NRA requirements, and there are a number of other added checks – too numerous to include here.
Kyushu Electric Power will also supplement its contribution to local evacuation by adding another 16 vehicles for the elderly to use should evacuation ever be needed; it will also greatly expand its seismic monitoring system. The company also will endeavor to be far more communicative with, and transparent to, the surrounding communities in order to ease their minds, according to the official statement.
In the face of this, Governor Mitazono on September 7 repeated his demand (again delivered personally to Kyushu Electric’s President as is the custom) to shut down the plant. Asahi Shimbun quoted Kyushu Electric President Uriu as saying “We will consider your demands in a sincere manner toward further reducing anxieties over the nuclear power plant among the people in Kagoshima Prefecture and from the viewpoint of further improving the safety and trustworthiness of the nuclear power plant.”
Given the response of the company to Mitazono’s earlier request, which was founded on not only its own post-Kumamoto quake inspection but also the opinion of the nation’s nuclear regulator, it is not likely that Kyushu will shut down the Sendai plant based on this second, repeated request from Mitazono. As was hinted at by Asahi Shimbun in a report published September 5 (and attributed to Kyushu Electric) it would start a dangerous trend for nuclear plant operators if on this occasion Kyushu shut down a nuclear plant which has passed the post-Fukushima modifications and inspections, been reinspected following a (much less severe) recent quake and then further approved for operation by the new regulator, based solely on a request by a known anti-nuclear activist governor. In the face of that, no nuclear plant might ever operate again in Japan if this became the norm.
So, for the time being at least, Sendai NPP’s two units continue to operate, and Governor Mitazono again awaits a response from Kyushu Electric whose content he can probably all too clearly already guess. The real questions will come when it is time for the plant to be shut down as scheduled for the NRA designated periodic inspections and then tries to restart. It’s guaranteed that this significant story in the life of Japan’s nuclear power plants is not yet over.
Will Davis is Communications Director and board member for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. He is a consultant to the Global America Business Institute, a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, and he writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is also a consultant and writer for the American Nuclear Society, and serves on the ANS Communications Committee and will serve on the Book Publishing Committee beginning in June. He is a former US Navy reactor operator and served on SSBN-641, USS Simon Bolivar.