OSAKA – On a gray winter day late last month alternating between rain and sleet, many in the Sea of Japan town of Takahama, Fukui Prefecture, were feeling sunny. For the restart of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama plant No. 3 reactor means not only a return to nuclear power, but a return of the money stream that flows from it.
Since 1970, Fukui has been the home of the largest concentration of nuclear power plants in Japan — and possibly the world — hosting a total of 13 commercial reactors.
For the past 4½ decades, the plants, spread across the towns of Tsuruga, Mihama, Takahama and Oi, provided local employment and an array of other benefits.
When the reactors were shut down every 13-16 months for routine inspections, it was a bonanza for local businesses.
A flood of Kepco employees, safety inspectors and nuclear-power related specialists arrived, filling up local hotels and spending money in area cafes, restaurants and bars.
At the same time, the plants provided numerous part-time jobs for local farmers and fishermen who wanted to supplement their incomes.
Many of these jobs were hard, dirty and dangerous, but welcomed.
Earlier this month, Kepco announced decommissioning plans for the Nos. 1 and 2 reactors at its Mihama plant and Japan Atomic Power Co. announced plans for scrapping the No. 1 reactor at its Tsuruga plant.
By 2024, JAPC intends to have removed all fuel from the Tsuruga reactor, and plans to finish tearing down the reactor itself and its associated facilities by 2039. Kepco also announced plans to begin decommissioning its Mihama reactors in the next fiscal year, and expects the work to take three decades.
The Tsuruga reactor’s decommissioning will take place in three stages, and is expected to cost just over ¥36 billion. Decommissioning at Kepco’s Mihama reactors is expected to total ¥68 billion.
For local governments, decommissioning presents a dilemma. On the one hand, there is the issue of safety, especially the disposal of high-level radioactive material, where pressure is on the utilities to clean up quickly
But with Fukui’s reactors aging as fast, if not faster, than its population, the amount of economic assistance required to both care for the elderly and keep the local economy going is likely to increase.
Scrapping more reactors will surely be a necessity in the coming years, as the Takahama Nos. 3 and 4 reactors are now over 30 years old.
While such work will bring a steady stream of income to the services industries, officials and residents within Fukui are well aware it will not bring back the economic glory days when Fukui was known nationwide as Japan’s Genpatsu (nuclear power) Ginza.
Read more at As residents and reactors age, Fukui’s fortunes fade