Japanese nuclear re-boot gathers pace

Japan’s return to the nuclear fold picked up pace over the weekend with the re-booting of one of the country’s oldest reactors.

Kansai Electric Power restarted a 47-year-old reactor at its western nuclear power station of Takahama on 15 January, a company spokesperson said, adding nearly 1 gigawatt of power to further trim consumption of gas.

Kansai is Japan’s biggest nuclear power operator, with all of its seven reactors approved for commercial use now in operation.

The 826 megawatt (MW) reactor launched in 1975 had been shut since November 2011 after the Fukushima nuclear disaster that March prompted Japan to idle most of its reactors and tighten safety standards.

Following special government approval to extend its life beyond the standard limit of 40 years, the Takahama No.2 reactor becomes Japan’s third of the kind to come back online after Kansai Electric’s Mihama No.3 and Takahama No.1.

After Friday’s restart, Japan has 12 operating reactors with combined capacity of 11.6 GW, or a third of the 33.1 GW of capacity from 33 reactors designated for commercial use.

The re-boot comes as Japan’s Atomic Energy Agency announced that a pool of radioactive water had been found in the radiation uncontrolled area of its materials test reactor in Oarai, Ibaraki Prefecture. The amount of radiation in the water was small and posed no threat to the environment or people, the agency said. The reactor is not in operation. 

Kyodo News cited JAEA as saying four leaks were detected within the Plutonium Fuel Development Room No 3 at the J Nuclear Fuel Cycle Engineering Laboratories in Tokai village.

The contamination was discovered during a routine inspection of the glovebox equipment, which is designed to be airtight. The contamination was found both above and below the glovebox, with the highest level of radioactive activity measuring approximately 33 becquerels. Although the glovebox contained nuclear fuel materials, it had not been in recent use and was undergoing a biennial routine inspection, according to JAEA. 

Investigations are underway.