Page 1 of
2 Japanese nuclear power
steams ahead By Hisane Masaki
TOKYO - Japan's New National Energy
Strategy calling for increased use of nuclear
power to generate electricity and, more
controversially, the need to extract plutonium
from spent nuclear fuel for future use to power
reactors has run into trouble because of repeated
accidents and mishaps at various plants.
So it was considered something of a
victory for nuclear power generation when the
Mihama-3 reactor in Fukui prefecture in western
Japan resumed full-scale commercial operation on
Wednesday, two and a half years after it was shut
down in the
of the nation's deadliest accident at a nuclear
pressurized-water reactor, owned by the Kansai
Electric Power Co (KEPCO), was shut down in August
2004 after a steam pipe on the non-radioactive
side of the plant ruptured, scalding 11 workers,
five of whom died.
commercial operations were resumed at the reactor,
KEPCO president Shosuke Mori posted a statement on
the company website offering "heartfelt apologies"
again to the victims of the accident and their
families. He vowed never to let a similar accident
happen again, saying, "Safeguarding safety is my
own and my company's mission."
11 nuclear reactors, all of them in Fukui
prefecture. It is dependent on nuclear power for
about 60% of its electricity generation, the
highest percentage among Japanese utilities. With
the full resumption of operations at the Mihama-3,
the capacity utilization rate of KEPCO's reactors
for the current fiscal year ending March 31 will
go up 1.8 percentage points to 77%.
accident was a prime example of why many Japanese
harbor reservations about the management of the
country's extensive network of nuclear power
plants. The ruptured pipe had not been inspected
even once in the 28 years since the reactor was
first put into operation in 1976. The pipe had
corroded from its original thickness of 10
millimeters to 0.4mm, far below the national
standard of 4.7mm.
In addition to
replacing the ruptured carbon-steel pipe with one
made of more corrosion-resistant stainless steel,
KEPCO took measures to prevent a recurrence,
including strengthening management of the
secondary cooling-water system and relocating the
headquarters of its nuclear-plant business from
Osaka to Mihama, a town of about 11,400 people.
The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency,
affiliated with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and
Industry (METI), approved the utility's safety
measures last March. Two months later, the Fukui
prefectural government and the Mihama town office
gave their official go-aheads for the utility to
resume operations. KEPCO confirmed the safety of
the pipes at the reactor during a test run in
September and October.
Some of the
families of the accident victims opposed the
restart, saying it was too early. But KEPCO
president Mori visited the families of the five
victims at the end of last year to explain the
necessity of resuming commercial operations. After
the meeting, KEPCO felt it had obtained the
consent of the bereaved families to resume
operations, the firm said.
prefectural police are still investigating the
accident for possible charges of professional
negligence resulting in bodily injury and death.
Investigators are looking into whether employees
and others knew the pipe could rupture and, if so,
who was responsible for their management and
reputation The Mihama-3 accident isn't the
only incident that has tarnished the reputation of
Japan's nuclear-power industry, which is the
world's third-largest in terms of the number of
plants in operation. Japan's largest utility,
Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), recently admitted
that it falsified data at its nuclear plants for
three decades in an attempt to pass compulsory
government inspections easily. TEPCO said it had
discovered falsifications of technical data on
nearly 200 occasions from 1977 to 2002 at three
nuclear plants and reported them as requested.
In December, METI ordered the company to
review past data after the company's discovery
that cooling-water data had been falsified at the
Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant in Fukushima
prefecture in the late 1980s. The company also
faked test operations at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa
nuclear plant in Niigata prefecture in 1992, when
an emergency core cooling-system pump failed
during a government inspection.
under fire after another safety-data cover-up
scandal in 2002, stirring public distrust of
Japan's nuclear industry and forcing the then
chairman and the president of the company to
resign to take responsibility.
to the future of the nation's nuclear-energy
program is the fast-breeder reactor (FBR), which
produces more fissile material than it consumes.
But the prototype FBR Monju in Tsuruga, Fukui
prefecture, has remained shut down since the
liquefied sodium used to cool the reactor core
leaked and burned