Fukushima nuclear plants finally face decommissioning
Tomoaki Kobayakawa, the president of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO), has told Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori that the company plans to decommission all four reactors at its Fukushima No 2 nuclear power plant.
All 10 reactors in Fukushima prefecture, including those at the Fukushima No 1 nuclear power plant, are now set to be decommissioned. TEPCO must proceed with the decommissioning safely and steadily.
The Fukushima No 2 nuclear power plant has not been in operation since the 2011 East Japan earthquake, but a massive amount of spent nuclear fuel remains. Kobayakawa explained the reason for deciding to decommission the reactors: “If this ambiguous situation continues, it will hinder reconstruction efforts.”
Behind this decision is also a continued increase in the volume of treated water, including the radioactive material tritium, at the Fukushima No 1 plant where decommissioning work is under way.
The company seems to hope to make a breakthrough for the release of the treated water into the ocean by agreeing to decommission the No 2 plant as requested by people living in the prefecture.
Decommissioning is said to take between 20 and 40 years. Moreover, the work will be conducted in parallel with the decommissioning of the No 1 plant, which was severely damaged in the nuclear accident.
How can the company secure skilled engineers? How can massive radioactive waste generated from the decommissioning be treated? Various challenges lie ahead.
TEPCO should accelerate efforts to draw up a timetable that will stipulate concrete work procedures. It is also crucial for the company to work closely with the Japanese Government and with other power utilities.
The company also faces a problem that there are no prospects for how to raise money for decommissioning reactors at both plants.
TEPCO shoulders 16 trillion yen (Bt4.7 trillion) of the 22 trillion yen needed for compensation for the damage caused by the accident at the Fukushima No 1 plant and the decommissioning of the plant. The cost of decommissioning the No 2 plant will be added to this figure.
It is estimated that the company must secure funds of more than 500 billion yen every year over the next 30 years. TEPCO’s profits have stood at something around 200 billion to 300 billion yen. Strengthening its profitability is an urgent task.
In its business rehabilitation plan compiled last year, TEPCO included a measure to cooperate with other companies in nuclear power as well as in the field of power transmission and distribution. However, remarkable achievements have yet to be made.
Many other power firms are reluctant to cooperate with heavily indebted TEPCO. Government support is essential.
The key to improving the company’s earnings is the restart of its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata prefecture. It is said that, if one of its reactors becomes operational, that could boost the company’s profits by as much as 90 billion yen.
The Nos 6 and 7 reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant have passed safety screenings by the Nuclear Regulation Authority. However, Niigata Governor Hideyo Hanazumi is cautious about restarting the reactors at an early stage.
The government and TEPCO should make every effort at persuasion to win local understanding of the restart of the reactors.