Tokyo Electric Power Company has officially announced that it will scrap the Fukushima Daini nuclear plant. The plant is one of two in the prefecture. The other is the Daiichi plant that was crippled in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The plant is located about 12 kilometers south of Fukushima Daiichi. The plan marks a major turning point for the utility.
TEPCO President Tomoaki Kobayakawa visited Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori on June 14th.
The governor says it's the residents' strong wish to have all nuclear reactors in the prefecture scrapped.
Kobayakawa says his company intends to start making specific plans to that end, and is planning to decommission all reactors at the Fukushima Daini plant.
The events at the Fukushima Daini plant
All 4 reactors at the Fukushima Daini halted operation automatically following the major earthquake in 2011. The facility was hit by tsunami of up to 9 meters, but its outside power source was spared any damage. Still, the cooling facilities were damaged, and the temperature of the container vessel, which covers the reactor core, rose to a critical level at 3 of the 4 reactors. Only the number 3 reactor was safe.
This prompted the government to issue an evacuation order for areas within 3 kilometers of the plant on March 12th, one day after the tsunami hit.
TEPCO managed to repair the cooling facilities, and all 4 reactors at the Daini plant reached a state of cold shutdown by March 15th, with temperatures inside reactors kept below 100 degrees Celsius. All fuel rods in the reactors were then moved to storage pools. The Daini plant has been managed and maintained in this state since.
Locals have long awaited the decision
The prefectural assembly adopted a petition to scrap the Daini plant. Municipal assemblies in Tomioka and Naraha, the towns that host the facility, had also repeatedly demanded that the plant be closed.
The Naraha mayor says the utility could have made this decision much sooner.
A Tomioka resident says people in his town had been calling for the closure all along. Another person says he has mixed feelings, because the town has long been economically dependent on the plant.
Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori pledged to get all the nuclear reactors in the prefecture decommissioned when he was running for office 4 years ago. He said it was the strong desire of the people of Fukushima. Uchibori's first term ends in November and many were watching closely to see if he could persuade TEPCO by then.
TEPCO's position on the fate of the Fukushima Daini plant has remained unclear until now.
The president of the utility explains the reason behind the timing of the announcement. He says reviving the community of Fukushima is the top priority for the utility, and that a vague stance on the plant's future would only hamper reconstruction efforts.
The decommissioning cost for Fukushima Daini has been put at over 270 billion yen, or about 2.4 billion dollars. The utility says it already has nearly 200 billion yen, or about 1.8 billion dollars in reserve funds.It says the impact on its bottom line and consumers will be limited.
TEPCO is now expected to scrap all 10 reactors in Fukushima Prefecture.
Before the March 11th disaster, 54 reactors were in operation across Japan. After the disaster, it has been decided that 15 reactors including those of Fukushima Daiichi will be scrapped. With the decommissioning of the 4 reactors at the Fukushima Daini plant, only 35 reactors will be left. That means one-third of the reactors that were in operation before the disaster will have been scrapped.
Expert emphasizes the significance of the move
Ritsumeikan University Associate Professor Hiroshi Kainuma says the TEPCO president's announcement marks a major turning point.
He says it must have been difficult for communities around the Fukushima Daini plant to make future plans when they didn't know how TEPCO planned to handle the plant. But the announcement will allow the communities to overcome this problem.
As for the timing of the announcement, Kainuma points out that TEPCO may have delayed the decision due to the heavy burden of decommissioning reactors. He says it is a troublesome task and the entire plant will become a profitless waste, or a mere liability, once it is scrapped.
Kainuma says TEPCO may have been able to make the announcement now because its business has stabilized to some extent, allowing it to fulfill its social responsibilities. But Kainuma adds that making the decision to scrap the plant is not enough to bring changes to local communities around the plant. He says TEPCO and the government bears the responsibility of rebuilding the communities by considering what industries to build there and how to restore normalcy for residents, balancing various factors. He says they also need to work together with the locals in this process.