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Friday, July 6, 2012
Irresponsible reactor startup
The No. 3 reactor at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture started transmitting electricity Thursday morning, ending a two-month period in which Japan has been without nuclear power.
The reactor is expected to reach full-capacity operation on Monday at the earliest. Kepco is also expected to restart the plant's No. 4 reactor on July 18 at the earliest and have it running at full-capacity on or after July 25.
The reactor restart at the Oi plant shows that both the government and Kepco have ignored the lesson from the catastrophe at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following 3/11 — that building and operating nuclear power plants in this quake-prone country could lead to an irreparable catastrophe and that Japan should pursue the path of decreasing and eventually ending its reliance on nuclear power.
Almost one year and four months have passed since the Fukushima nuclear crisis began, yet the government has not worked out a time-bound road map to reduce and end the nation's reliance on nuclear power. The fact that the reactor restart has taken place in the absence of such a plan shows that the government and the power industry are not serious about reducing and ending the reliance on nuclear power.
The government and the power industry must honestly look at the long-term problems that nuclear power generation will continue to impose on human beings. It takes 100,000 years for the radiation levels of high-level nuclear waste from nuclear power plants to drop to safe levels. At present, the technology to safely dispose of such high-level waste has not been established. Even if materials to contain such waste are developed, nobody can predict with precision what will happen to them 100 years or 1,000 years later.
Safety procedures in the restart of the Oi reactors are based only on provisional standards written before a full study of the Fukushima nuclear crisis was completed, and on a stress test consisting of computer simulations whose results can change depending on the data and computer programs used. It will take three years for Kepco to install filters to remove radioactive materials that might have to be vented from reactor cores in an emergency and establish a seismically isolated emergency command center.
The government and Kepco have also restarted the Oi reactor without working out an evacuation plan based on the worst-case scenario — a reactor core meltdown. This is completely irresponsible. The government and Kepco, which once roused fears of power shortages during the summer months, at the very least, should limit Oi reactor operations to this summer.