The process of restarting Ikata unit #3 began Friday. The initial step of control rod withdrawal garnered headlines across Japan. On the other hand, the milestone of initial criticality received about half of the original coverage, and the first generation of electricity very little. In a clear appeal to nuclear phobia, most news outlets made it seem that the entire Ikata #3 fuel load is MOX fuel, when the MOX in the core is actually about 10%. MOX (plu-thermal) is recycled from previously used fuel bundles. The Press in Japan focuses on this because MOX contains recycled Plutonium, which necessarily appeals to nuclear anxieties stemming from the plutonium bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki…

  • Ikata unit #3 restarted on Friday. Control rods were carefully raised to uncover a small portion of the nuclear fuel; the first step in starting up the reactor. Shikoku Electric Company control room staff began the restart procedure at 9am. Ikata unit #3 has been shuttered for more than five years due to Tokyo’s mandated nuclear moratorium. All Japanese Press outlets reported on the Friday. The most antinuclear news media focused on the few dozen protesters marching in the host town of Ikata. The protestors called for halting the restart because they fear another Fukushima accident, even though Ikata #3 is a Pressurized Water Reactor System significantly different from Fukushima Daiichi’s Boiling Water Reactors. The activists have filed suits in three district courts (Oita, Hiroshima, and Matsuyama) demanding an injunction to halt the restart, similar to the recent injunctions that shuttered two perfectly safe units at Takahama station. Hiroyuki Kawai, a lawyer involved in all three suits, said, “The Otsu court decision to shut down the Takahama reactors sent a shock wave through the government and the utilities. Political measures including demonstrations are needed. But I’ve come to believe the best way to stop the restart of nuclear power plants is through legal means, such as filing lawsuits and requests for temporary injunctions.” Hiroshima and Oita City are both more than 100km distant and not even on the same island as the nuke plant.  — (Comment – The above Japan Times link is perhaps the most antinuclear-focused report found in all Japan’s Press outlets.)
  • On Saturday, Ikata #3 achieved criticality. Criticality means the fission chain reaction is self-sustaining. An analogy would be starting your car and letting it idle. However, unlike you idling car, reactor criticality occurs at such a miniscule level of energy production that it cannot heat up the cooling water flowing through the core; natural heat losses to the RPV and other system components is greater than the amount of heat being produced by the fuel. Much of Japan’s Press reported on achieving criticality, while others ignored the milestone. Most articles continued to obsess on the minority of the core containing plu-thermal fuel. One new anxiety-inducing angle was used by NHK World… initial start-up at Ikata #3 includes a number of new reactor operators in-training because the more than 5-year shuttering has resulted in some staff attrition. NHK says the start-up is proceeding cautiously because “its operators now include those without previous experience.” In fact, operator training is a usual and customary part of reactor start-up procedure, and not-at-all unusual. (Comment – the cautious start-up is probably because pre-startup testing found a leaking pump seal resulting from the extended period of shut-down.)
  • A Press outlet finds a local who fears the Ikata #3 restart. A resident of the town of Ikata was cited, but the report made it sound as if fear is common-place. A fisherman from the town says the recent quake in distant Kumamoto Prefecture has piqued his nuclear anxieties. He said he was “consumed with fears and anxiety” over whether or not he could evacuate if Ikata #3 had an accident. Ikata #3 is technically on a peninsula, located less than two kilometers from the main body of Shikoku Island at the peninsula’s widest point. The reason for the resident’s phobic trauma is because of news reports have constantly said a fault line runs about 8 kilometers from Ikata #3 which may be connected to the tectonic zone that produced the April 16th Kumamoto earthquake. A successful nuclear evacuation drill for Ikata station was run in 2012, including nearly 10,000 people.
  • Ikata unit #3 began generating its first bit of electricity today, and sent it into the grid. Only two major outlets mentioned the milestone, and both obsessed on the MOX fuel in the core. One, The Mainichi, added that MOX bundles are more radioactive than Uranium-only bundles, which is fundamentally frivolous but appeals to Japan’s huge radiophobic demographic.

Now for some Fukushima news…

  • The F. Daiichi “ice wall” is progressing steadily. All of the in-ground temperature monitors for those sections being frozen are now at or below the freezing point. The six small sections not currently allowed to be frozen by the Nuclear Regulation Authority are the only locations where freezing has not occurred. The Press has not reported on it, so we have linked to the latest Tepco posting on the process.
  • Tokyo wants to gradually re-open the remaining Fukushima “no-go” zones; the locations designated as being “difficult-to-return”, where estimated whole body exposures were originally greater than 50 millisieverts per year. The government wants to set up strategic reconstruction bases (hubs) within the zones that remain in seven communities; portions of Iitate, Katsurao, Minamisoma, and Tomioka, and, most of Namie, Okuma, and Futaba. These zones had a population of about 24,000 before the state-mandated evacuation in 2011. If plans are enacted, residents will be allowed to return home when decontamination is completed and whole body exposures will be well-below the 20 mSv/yr evacuation criterion. Lifting of restrictions will no longer be delayed until an entire zone has met the benchmark. The plan calls for “reconstruction footholds” to be established where workers and other citizens can be allowed to live. Tokyo wants all “no-go” zones eliminated by 2021.
  • Less than 5% of the people affected by the July 12th lifting of restrictions in Minamisoma have actually returned home. Four hundred of the nearly 11,000 evacuees who were affected by the July 12th decision have gone home. The 400 number is more or less an educated guess because the city feels many who have returned home have not reported to the municipal office.