Thursday 26 April 2012

Four Green Bottles

Many times in this blog I've referred to Japan's 54 nuclear reactors. Well, now there are 50. Units 1 to 4 at Fukushima Daiichi, which you might say 'accidentally fell',  have been officially closed.

But this has caused new problems for the authorities in the area and serves to highlight the symbiotic relationship between the nuclear industry and local authorities in this country. The prefecture and local authorities have refused the extra handouts they used to get but Okuma where the reactors are situated is still wanting its property tax. But what are the facilities at the plant worth? How do they get in and value them? And what's the value of all the new decontamination equipment that's been put in place? It's all got to be worked out.

While Fukushima's 10 reactors (the fate of Units 5 and 6 and the four reactors at Fukushima Daini have still to be decided) were the main source of nuclear power for Tokyo Electric, there is another cluster of four nuclear plants (13 reactors) on the Japan Sea coast in Fukui prefecture which supply Kansai Electric (Osaka).

These are constantly in the news but everyone was surprised yesterday when NISA (The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency) announced that the Tsuruga plant in Fukui has a fault running right alongside it and should never have been built there in the first place and, worse still, there are mini-faults running right underneath Reactors 1 & 2 which might move if the main fault ever moved. This coming from a government agency is a first. Further tests are being done but the plant (built in 1970) might have to be decommissioned.

The debate over whether to open the Oi plant in Fukui continues. Kansai Electric forecast  a 20% shortage of electricity this summer if it's not opened. But their figures were based simply on an increase in demand equivalent to that of the sweltering hot summer two years ago.  This has been challenged and an independent enquiry is being held which will take other factors into consideration, for example how much can be saved by economising like last year, and using hydroelectric to cover the peak. The problem is that trust in the government and the electric companies is at rock bottom.

Pity then the new Chairman of Tokyo Electric, Mr Shimokobe, a lawyer and currently heading the compensation board. Various business leaders had been approached but no one would touch the job.  Businesses have to make a profit and how can Tepco be made profitable with so much conpensation to pay, and latent decommissioning costs? The basic question of how much responsiblity the state takes and how much the electric companies take still hasn't been addressed. But at least the new man will know that Tepco needs to make drastic cuts to meet its obligations. A word you often hear these days in connection with the electric companies is tono-sama shobai (殿様商売), 'running a business like a daimyo', i.e. complacent, not trying hard enough.

So the government's plans to reopen the closed reactors are not proceeding smoothly. At this rate, there'll be no more green bottles (sorry reactors) left hanging on the wall.

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