This post follows up Nuclear Incident in Kyushu published last month on SurvivalJapan. Genkai nuclear plant reactor no. 4 was restarted on November 1st against the local population’s will and without any detailed public report regarding the incident. According to the Japan Times, “The reactor shut down automatically Oct. 4 due to an abnormality in its steam condenser that emerged after repairs were carried out using a faulty manual.” Kyushu Electric Power (KEPCO) simply changed the manual and got approval from the Central Government which found it “largely appropriate” as reported by Asahi Shimbun on November 2nd (read below). In their article on November 1st, the expression reported was “largely acceptable”, any of these leaving a taste of less than diligency and professionalism in a critical system such a nuclear plant, especially in the post-Fukushima context.

Genkai Mayor seemed surprised by the move as he declared that “We thought the reactor would be inspected without a resumption of operations. This is something we did not expect.” in the same article. However, he chose not to oppose the Central Government. Saga prefecture governor, who was involved in the scandal by KEPCO which was caught manipulating the public opinion in order to restart the plant operations, agreed with the decision. KEPCO president, who was directly behind the fraudulent scheme, did not resign and suffered only a minor salary cut. Eventually, the plant restarted producing nuclear power anyway, which shows that for the Japanese nuclear industry, not only it is acceptable to deceive and manipulate the public opinion, if you get caught red-handed, it does not matter as you can still impose your decision in the end with blessings from local politicians. On the technical side, KEPCO claims that the incident was due to human factor, yet it was the second time this particular type of issue had occured at that very plant.

Saga Governor Yasushi Furukawa gives a news conference on July 30 to explain the part he played in a campaign by Kyushu Electric Power Co. to orchestrate e-mail messages in favor of nuclear power. (Haruki Morishita)

Saga Governor Yasushi Furukawa gives a news conference on July 30 to explain the part he played in a campaign by Kyushu Electric Power Co. to orchestrate e-mail messages in favor of nuclear power. (Haruki Morishita)

Here is the Asahi Shimbun first article quoted above:

Kyushu Electric Power to resume operations of Genkai reactor

November 01, 2011

Kyushu Electric Power Co. plans to soon restart the No. 4 reactor at its Genkai nuclear power plant in Saga Prefecture, despite rising anti-nuclear sentiment and lingering anger over an e-mail scandal.

If approved, it will be the first nuclear reactor in Japan to resume operations since the March 11 Great East Earthquake struck northeastern Japan, triggering a tsunami that crippled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

“Since we have already explained details of the plan to local governments, we want to resume operations at the plant within several days,” a Kyushu Electric Power executive said Oct. 31.

The No. 4 reactor, capable of generating 1.18 gigawatts of electricity, has been offline since Oct. 4, when it automatically shut down after an abnormality arose in a condenser that turns steam into water. The problem was caused by a worker using the wrong procedure instruction manual.

Kyushu Electric Power submitted a report on the cause of the incident and preventive measures to the industry ministry. The ministry’s Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency on Oct. 31 said the utility’s report was “largely acceptable.”

Even if the No. 4 reactor is allowed to restart, it is scheduled to go offline again in December for a periodic inspection.

Genkai Mayor Hideo Kishimoto said if the central government approves the resumption plan, the town would not oppose.

But he also said: “We thought the reactor would be inspected without a resumption of operations. This is something we did not expect.”

Kyushu Electric Power, which in September posted a deficit in its interim financial report for fiscal 2011, wants to run the reactor to reduce soaring fuel costs at its thermal power plants, sources said.

An 81-year-old Genkai resident who has joined anti-nuclear power activities lashed out at the utility, saying, “We cannot possibly accept such an act that totally ignores the wishes of residents.”

Another anti-nuclear activist, who works at Fukuoka Jumintohyo-no-kai (Fukuoka referendum group), said the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has heightened fears of the next possible nuclear accident.

“I am so upset that Kyushu Electric Power made such a blatant decision without giving an explanation to residents,” he said.

Questions have also been raised within Kyushu Electric Power.

“To be honest, I am surprised to hear about the plan,” a worker at the utility said. “I do not know whether this has been orchestrated by our president or the nuclear power division, but I think this will prompt another round of public criticism against us.”

In July, the company came under fire over reports that it tried to manipulate public opinion on nuclear power by instructing employees to send “pro-nuclear e-mails” to a public-hearing TV program.

The Asahi Shimbun second article is reproduced below, with emphasis added on a key statement by KEPCO:

Kyushu Electric Power restarts reactor operations

November 02, 2011

Kyushu Electric Power Co. on Nov. 1 restarted the No. 4 reactor at its Genkai nuclear power plant in Saga Prefecture, the first resumption of reactor operations in Japan since the March 11 earthquake.

The reactor, which was automatically shut down on Oct. 4 due to equipment trouble caused by human error, is expected to reach full capacity on Nov. 4, company officials said.

On Nov. 1, Yukio Edano, the minister of economy, trade and industry, indicated the central government would accept Kyushu Electric Power’s plan.

“Whether to restart the operations or not is a matter the utility must decide after talking with local governments or the people,” he said in a news conference after a Cabinet meeting.

Genkai Mayor Hideo Kishimoto said Nov. 1, “We obtained a confirmation of safety from the government on the No. 4 reactor.”

Saga Governor Yasushi Furukawa said, “If the government, which is responsible for regulations (on reactor operations), concluded that the No. 4 reactor is safe, we will accept the conclusion as we did before.”

Anti-nuclear sentiment has spread since the accident started at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, including rallies in Genkai. In addition, Kyushu Electric Power was harshly criticized for trying to manipulate public opinion by instructing employees to send pro-nuclear energy e-mails to a TV program.

Kyushu Electric Power concluded that the words of the mayor and the governor showed it has obtained the understanding of the people to resume operations–even though a company official said it wasn’t needed.

“In a sense, the consent of local governments or the people is unnecessary,” Naoyuki Toyoshima, a senior official of the utility, said at a news conference that started at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 1.

The government has required electric power companies to conduct stress tests on their reactors before they can be restarted. However, the reactors subject to the condition are those whose operations were suspended for regular inspections.

The No. 4 reactor at the Genkai plant–which was shut down after abnormalities were detected in a condenser when a worker was using the wrong operating manual–was not subject to the condition.

“It is different than reactors whose operations have been suspended due to regular inspections,” Toyoshima said. “It is the same as reactors that are in operation. There is no reason for maintaining the suspension of operations.”

The central government assessed Kyushu Electric Power’s report on the No. 4 reactor incident as “largely appropriate.” The company then announced its resumption plan and conveyed its intentions to the local governments.

The resumption of the No. 4 reactor will also help Kyushu Electric Power save money.

The utility currently has six reactors, including two at the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture. Operations at five of them have been suspended since Oct. 4.

To cover the electricity shortage, Kyushu Electric Power has increased thermal power generation, which has forced the company to spend around 1 billion yen (about $13 million) a day on fuel for the thermal power plants.

If the No. 4 reactor runs as scheduled for about a month and a half until mid-December, when its operations will be suspended for regular inspections, the utility can save 13.5 billion yen to 18 billion yen in fuel costs, equivalent to about 300,000 kiloliters of oil.

Another Japan Times article gives us a hint of problems to come:

Genkai reactor may have faulty vessel – Study says aging No. 1 unit should be suspended : A nuclear reactor that began operations 36 years ago at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Genkai plant may have a faulty pressure vessel, an analysis by researchers […]. Ino, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, and other experts in metals, performed a close analysis of test data to determine the extent to which steel used for the pressure vessel has degraded. The analysis of the data, which were disclosed by the utility only in July, showed disparities in the quality of steel used for the vessel, pointing to the possibility of an error during the manufacturing process, Ino said. “The technique used in manufacturing reactors in the 1970s was unsophisticated,” Ino said. “It’s possible that a faulty manufacturing process existed, and the pressure vessel’s durability is questionable.”

As a recent development, Japanese Government seem to be getting the hint that restarting these outdated facilities are an aberration as Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano announced that two other reactors will not be restarted as reported in mainstream news Mainichi Shimbun on November 18, which article is reproduced below:

Gov’t not to permit restart of 2 reactors at Genkai plant: Edano

In this file photo, the Genkai nuclear power plant, owned by Kyushu Electric Power Co., is seen in Genkai, Saga Prefecture, on Dec. 7, 2009. (Mainichi)

In this file photo, the Genkai nuclear power plant, owned by Kyushu Electric Power Co., is seen in Genkai, Saga Prefecture, on Dec. 7, 2009. (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano said Thursday the government will not allow Kyushu Electric Power Co. to restart two nuclear reactors at its Genkai power plant amid a scandal involving an attempt by the utility to misrepresent public opinion regarding the restart.

Kyushu Electric should not be allowed to resume operation of the No. 2 and 3 reactors, currently idled for regular checks, at its nuclear plant in the town of Genkai in Saga Prefecture “in view of its current governance,” Edano told the Budget Committee of the House of Councillors.

Edano was referring to Kyushu Electric’s campaign to mobilize employees to bombard a government-sponsored television program with e-mails in support of restarting the reactors.

A third-party panel set up by the utility to investigate the scandal concluded in late September that a remark by Saga Gov. Yasushi Furukawa prompted the utility to launch the e-mail campaign.

Kyushu Electric’s Oct. 14 report to the industry ministry did not include the third-party panel’s conclusion. With Edano angered by the report, the utility submitted a revised report on Wednesday that again omitted the panel’s conclusion.

Kyushu Electric “has refused to accept a report it commissioned from the panel,” Edano said.

(Mainichi Japan) November 18, 2011

The situation is still unfolding with local government and KEPCO being confronted by the central government. It should be noted that the Japanese government is still pushing municipalities to accept nuclear waste and this move by Edano could be a kind of pressure on Saga prefecture to accept a share of it. On the same day indeed, while participating in a debris-viewing tour in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, organized by the Environment Ministry, and in which 50 officials from 31 local governments took part, the same newspaper reported that :

“An official from Kitakyushu, which is considering accepting disaster waste from Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, said after joining the on-the-spot tour, “They have provided us various data about the safety of the debris, but the central government should be more thorough in explaining whether the safety of the debris is really assured.” “

Kitakyushu is a heavily industrialized city in Fukuoka, the northern neighbour of Saga prefecture, home to Genkai nuclear power plant. Its electricity provider is of course KEPCO so Edano maybe pushing Saga while Hosono is pulling Fukuoka in order to achieve the Central Government nuclear dissemination plan down to Kyushu, with the negotiation prize being the clearance of  Genkai nuclear plant reactors restart.

The full article is reproduced below and gives hints about the on-going behind the curtain battles:

Local governments invited on ‘debris-viewing’ tour in bid to accept tsunami rubble

Rubble piles up at a temporary disposal site in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture. (Mainichi)

Rubble piles up at a temporary disposal site in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture. (Mainichi)

MIYAKO, Iwate — The Ministry of the Environment has invited local governments from across the country on a “debris-viewing” tour here as part of efforts to persuade them to accept rubble left by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

Amid public concern over the effects of radiation emanating from the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, many local governments have refused or are reluctant to accept waste and refuse left by the March 11 disaster from Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.

In an attempt to win local officials’ understanding, the Environment Ministry for the first time organized the debris-viewing tour in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, on Nov. 18, in which 50 officials from 31 local governments took part.

Participants on the tour visited a port in Miyako, where piles of disaster waste have been temporarily stored. An official from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which has become the first municipality in the nation to accept debris from the city, explained how they measured radiation levels in debris before shipping it to the capital.

“The radiation levels in debris that we local governments need to take on are around 100 becquerels or less, which are the same as those set by the national government for food safety standards or levels that do not require treatment as radioactive materials. We have no choice but to explain the facts to residents in a cordial manner,” the metropolitan government official said.

An official from Kitakyushu, which is considering accepting disaster waste from Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, said after joining the on-the-spot tour, “They have provided us various data about the safety of the debris, but the central government should be more thorough in explaining whether the safety of the debris is really assured.”

Debris from Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, is being loaded into a container to be sent to Tokyo. (Mainichi)

Debris from Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, is being loaded into a container to be sent to Tokyo. (Mainichi)

“We’ve been able to learn about the terrible situation the affected areas are in and about the lack of danger from the debris, but it will be difficult for us to reassure our residents (about accepting debris),” another participant said.

The debris left by the March 11 quake and tsunami has amounted to 4.76 million metric tons in Iwate Prefecture — worth some 11 years’ general waste produced in the prefecture — and 15.69 million metric tons in Miyagi Prefecture — worth 19 years’ general waste in the prefecture, according to an estimate released by the Environment Ministry.

(Mainichi Japan) November 19, 2011

Read Nuclear Incident in Kyushu December Update 1 on SurvivalJapan.

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