Kansai Electric Power Co. (9503) will spend more than 200 billion yen ($2.5 billion) to bolster defenses at its 11 nuclear reactors against earthquakes, tsunami and other accidents, president Makoto Yagi said in Tokyo today.
While it would take as long as 4 years to complete the improvements on the reactors, which are all shut for so-called post-Fukushima stress tests, Yagi is petitioning the government to allow the restart of two reactors before summer at its Ohi plant that passed the tests.
“Though I think we have improved safety to prevent an accident similar to Fukushima, steps to increase safety never end,” Yagi said. “Safety at nuclear plants is our top priority.” He spoke after a meeting with Industry Minister Yukio Edano.
Kansai Electric has warned that if all its reactors stay offline during summer peak power demand, cities it serves, such as Osaka and Kyoto, as well as Sharp Corp., Panasonic Corp. (6752) and other companies may face power shortages, hindering the country’s economic recovery.
Kansai Electric provides power to a region about the size of Belgium and brings jobs to rural Fukui prefecture on the coast about 95 kilometers (59 miles) northeast of Osaka where the Ohi plant was built. With livelihoods threatened by the shutdown of reactors, communities are conflicted on whether they should be restarted.
“It’s questionable to let the plant restart, but its a very difficult problem,” said Masataka Tamagawa, a Buddhist priest in Obama city, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the Ohi plant. “Many people in the city have a job related to Kansai Electric. It’s not easy to find work if the plant goes.”
The Mayor of Ohi said today safety measures taken so far are “sufficient,” Kyodo News reported, citing his comments at a press conference.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and three members of his Cabinet will hold talks on the safety of the Ohi nuclear reactors at 7 p.m. Japan time today, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said in an e-mail. Industry Minister Edano will hold a news conference after the meeting.
All but one of Japan’s 54 reactors are now offline after the March 11 quake and tsunami last year caused meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501)’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear station. Kansai Electric’s two reactors at Ohi would be the first restart of reactors that passed stress tests.
The government and Kansai Electric “fell short of scientifically and quantitatively explaining why some measures don’t need to be taken right now and what alternative safety measures have been secured,” Hironobu Unesaki, a nuclear engineering professor at Kyoto University, said by phone today. “Their explanations are not enough.”
The construction of additional reactor defenses would run into the year ending March 2016, the utility based in Osaka, western Japan, said. It would include a filtered-vent system to reduce release of radiation in an accident, permanent emergency back-up batteries and a quake-proof building for use as a crisis center in emergencies.
Nuclear plant operators before Fukushima believed they had produced fail-safe systems and Fukushima proved them wrong, Trade and Industry Minister Edano, who oversees the nuclear power industry, told Yagi in a meeting today. “Plant operators need to get rid of the safety myth.”
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