21 July, 2015
Restarting the Sendai-1 Nuclear Power Plant
JAIF President Akio Takahashi has just released a comment on Sendai-1 restart.
The Sendai-1 Nuclear Power Plant, owned and operated by the Kyushu Electric Power Co., is undergoing pre-service inspections, the final stage in resuming operation, It has already been granted approval for changes to its reactor installation, as well as its construction work plans and revisions to its operational safety program. With its fuel loaded, the reactor’s restart is imminent.
In July 2013, right after the new regulatory standards came into effect, applications were submitted for restarting ten NPPs at five sites around Japan. Two years have already passed since then. Although the process has taken longer than expected, I want to express again my respect for the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) and the nuclear operators who worked so hard on the examinations without making any compromises.
Stop and Confirm
Much attention is now focused on Sendai-1 (PWR, 890MWe), as it will be Japan’s first commercial reactor to be restarted since new regulatory standards came into effect.
Sendai-1 has been shut down for about four years, ever since May 2011, shortly after the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi NPPs. Needless to say, safety measures for the extensive shutdown were duly put in place. Yet, I think that many do not really appreciate the significance of an extensive plant shutdown. While it is to be hoped that the restart proceed smoothly, technical occurrences as a result of the long shutdown may not be revealed until the reactor actually starts up again. The restart of Sendai-1 must thus be executed carefully.
The same can be said of human resources, including the people engaged in reactor operation and maintenance. Although they have continued their training on simulators during the long shutdown, it also remains true that they have not done actual work for a while. Moreover, severe accident measures have been implemented under the new regulatory standards at Sendai-1, with quite a few pieces of new equipment and facilities installed to improve safety. I expect that sufficient training will be given to the personnel to allow them to master such new equipment, giving them the confidence to properly handle them during emergencies, in addition to engaging in everyday operations.
Under such circumstances, I am positive that the parties involved realize that there is no room for any mistakes, and that they are determined to see the restart through according to schedule. Of course, I know that if they feel concerned about something they notice, they will stop and investigate it. I urge them to go back to basics — reporting and communicating, consulting and confirming — as they go about their work, always placing top priority on safety.
Sharing Information and Experiences
To ensure a successful restart of Sendai-1, all nuclear operators in the country have been urged to continue their concerted efforts to back it up. For example, in July 2012, the Ohi-3 and -4 NPPs (PWRs, 1180MWe each), owned and operated by the Kansai Electric Power Co., were restarted under provisional standards, after a shutdown period of 15 months. As the two reactors use the same model of pressurized water reactor (PWR) as that of Sendai-1, their experience is valuable.
Having other PWR and BWR operators share information related to Sendai-1’s restart — namely, how the operator deals with various matters, what it checks, and what kind of systems it uses — ought to help them restart their own NPPs more efficiently in the future. And naturally, the knowledge and experience accumulated through that process will result in further enhancements to nuclear safety.
Communicating with the Public
Safety naturally comes first at worksites, but simply securing that is not enough in itself. Positively disseminating information is essential to improve the understanding of people living near nuclear sites and those throughout the whole country concerning official assurances of safety, and is also necessary for them to gain greater confidence about those assurances.
Unlike previous approaches, which tended to deny that accidents would ever occur, advance efforts must be carried out to carry out interactive communication with the public, answering the questions of individual citizens, responding to their concerns, discussing expected problems, and explaining their effects and countermeasures. An environment must be created in which a more genuine understanding of nuclear power can be achieved.
As we approach the restart of Sendai-1 and other units, it is evident that nuclear operators have indeed striven hard to reach this point. At the same time, we must not forget the work of the Nuclear Regulation Authority and cooperating companies, which have helped improve safety day and night, nor must we forget the people in the local communities, who have come to understand and accept the reasons for restarting the reactors. Fully aware that the workers at Sendai-1 today must be under great stress, I urge them to accept the gratitude extended by all parties while they persevere and realize the restart of the reactor. They can then pass the metaphorical torch to their colleagues at reactors elsewhere.
In order for nuclear power to play its designated role in Japan’s future, operators need to take another look at the actual circumstances surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi accident. They should not satisfy themselves simply by meeting regulatory standards; their aim must be higher. And the operators need to demonstrate to the public, both locally and nationally, their commitment to extensively transforming themselves, and their practical efforts to achieve that.
The restart of Japan’s reactors is not the end, but rather a new beginning. It is essential to maintain a firm, steady attitude of walking together with the public, for that will eventually result in regaining their understanding and trust. Safety, without a doubt, comes first. At the same time, the public must stand with us in our efforts toward greater openness and interactive communication.
Akio Takahashi, President, JAIF