As of March 25 (Japan time), the 53rd
nuclear reactor has been halted for a checkup. That reactor was in
the TEPCO territory. The 54th and last remaining operational reactor
is in Hokkaido, in the Hokkaido Electric Power Co. (HEPCO)
territory, and it is due to be halted on May 5th (Japan time) for a
checkup. So as of early May, no nuclear reactors will be running to
provide power in Japan. The hot summer usually starts in mid-July,
and Japan must go through another summer with an inadequate power
supply. Remember that TEPCO suffered the most last summer because of
the loss of the power generated by the four reactors of the Fukushima
Daiichi nuclear plant.
To recap, the reason for stopping the
nuclear reactors is not out of fear that they aren’t safe but
because utilities companies do not want to restart them, even though
they were deemed to be fine after their checkups. The former
administration required a stress test to make sure the existing
nuclear reactors can withstand more severe earthquakes and tsunamis
before they can be restarted. The details of the stress test have not
been publicly available, but bits and pieces of information from the
media reveal the following.
The first level of the stress test is
to simulate even more severe earthquakes and tsunami, to see whether
the current infrastructure holds. That is the first level. It is only
simulation. The second level is to enumerate all the possible ways
for the nuclear reactors to get into trouble and provide remedies for
These conditions are rather silly
The halted nuclear reactors are
not safer than the running reactors, because reactor cores require
constant cooling. Until this problem of supplying power for cooling
when there are major quakes or tsunamis is solved, nuclear reactors
will not be safe.
It was OK not to test operational
reactors, while the halted reactors were tested. In spite of #1,
operational reactors are possibly more dangerous than halted
The first level of the stress test
does not test physically to see whether the outer containment can
really withstand severe quakes. Therefore, passing the test does not
guarantee any real physical integrity. If we take the condition for
the second level literally, we can’t restart any reactors.
Instead, we need some kind of rating system to decide whether each
nuclear reactor can be restarted.
Right now, KEPCO, which serves Osaka,
Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe, is trying to restart two out of eleven
reactors as early as April. Up to now, the central government and
local governments that host nuclear plants were ducking the issue of
nuclear power plants for fear of a public outcry. The current
administration seems to have decided to restart nuclear reactors no
matter what. When you look at my three reasons that the conditions
are silly, # 2 does not apply, because every reactor will be halted
soon. But #1 and #3 still hold. KEPCO got a clearance on level one of
the stress test in an open meeting of the Nuclear Safety Commission.
It took only five minutes to certify level one, in spite of questions
and opposition. They are now at level two and likely to pass it some
time soon, so that two reactors can be restarted as early as April.
Under the guidance of Toru Hashimoto,
maverick mayor of Osaka, the City of Osaka will suggest getting rid
of nuclear reactors in an upcoming KEPCO shareholder meeting. The
City of Osaka, along with the Cities of Kyoto and Kobe, holds about
13% of KEPCO's stock. KEPCO reported that the district it serves
would be short of power this summer without nuclear power. What they
want is to restart their nuclear reactors to remedy this. The stock
owned by the Cities of Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe does not constitute a
majority but is big enough. Their demand is that all the nuclear
power plants be abandoned.
I wish they had had a rational
discussion of this. KEPCO should publish detailed information about
its power supply and demand. How much does it lack at the peak times,
as opposed to non–peak times? If peak times are the only problem,
there are a lot of ways to avoid that. Some people wonder whether
last summer’s power shortage in the TEPCO territory was real. Some
people are skeptical that KEPCO really has a power shortage problem
without nuclear power.
If there is a reasonably priced way not
to use nuclear reactors without hurting individuals and businesses,
it should be considered. But one thing remains to be addressed.
Simply halting nuclear reactors does not guarantee safety, because
fuel rods need constant cooling, which requires power.