From: Kyodo News International, Tokyo
Published September 27, 2004 12:00 AM

Japan Official Orders Kansai Electric Power Co. to Shut Down Nuclear Reactor

Sep. 27—FUKUI, Japan — Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Shoichi Nakagawa on Monday ordered Kansai Electric Power Co. to suspend operation of the No. 3 reactor at its Mihama Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture until the reactor is confirmed to meet government standards, following Japan's most deadly nuclear power plant accident in August.


The move came after a ministry panel probing the accident released its interim report Monday that blamed the Aug. 9 accident that killed five workers and injured seven others at the Mihama plant on safety control failures by Kansai Electric and others regarding a coolant water pipe at the reactor.


The workers had been undertaking preparatory work for regular checks of the reactor.


The minister also reprimanded Kansai Electric President Yosaku Fuji for a series of indiscretions and requested that he take every possible measure to prevent a similar incident.


Nakagawa harshly criticized the utility and indicated more penalties to come.


"Kansai Electric's responsibility is grave," he told a news conference. "I don't think the case will be closed with a reprimand and a suspension order. This is simply an interim report, not a final decision." As nearly two months have passed since the accident, the concerned authorities have finished part of their probe into the cause of the incident, but the police are continuing a thorough investigation into the errors that led up to the accident.


In the interim report, the panel said failure to check into corrosion of pipes had triggered the accident, naming Kansai Electric, Nihon Arm Co., Kansai Electric's affiliate overseeing maintenance of the utility's power plants, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., which manufactured the reactor, for blame.


The report urged the three to set up an integrated system to control the pipes and to share information on safety controls with each other as prevention measures.


The ministry also canceled its quality guarantee assessment for three reactors. The three, all in Fukui, are the Mihama No. 1 reactor, the No. 3 reactor at the Takahama Nuclear Power Plant and the No.2 reactor at the Oi Nuclear Power Plant.


"We take (the reprimand) seriously and will make every effort to prevent a recurrence and restore credibility," Fuji told reporters but denied that he was going to resign to take responsibility.


Meanwhile, investigative sources said Monday that police will raid a Kansai Electric branch office in Fukui prefecture on Tuesday as part of their investigation into the accident in August.


The raid, which is to look for evidence to back up the company's alleged professional negligence resulting in death, is expected to take two days, the sources said.


The Fukui prefectural police plan to examine documents to determine company officials' responsibility for failing to check a coolant water pipe at the Mihama Nuclear Power Plant for nearly 28 years until it corroded and ruptured Aug. 9, blowing out superheated steam.


Kansai Electric is suspected of failing to conduct checks even after Nihon Arm warned it last November that the pipe in question had been overlooked during annual inspections.


In order to specify the exact date of when Nihon Arm had notified the utility about the danger, the police will search Kansai Electric's Wakasa branch office in Mihama, which oversees operations at the company's 11 nuclear reactors in Fukui Prefecture.


The planned raid will follow one conducted earlier this month when the police sent about 150 officers to search both companies' offices inside the plant.


Kansai Electric earlier said it is ready to fully cooperate with the investigation.


Investigations conducted after the accident have shown that coolant water had corroded the ruptured pipe to a thickness of only 0.6 millimeter, compared with its original thickness of 10 mm.


The 826-megawatt, pressurized-water reactor is the newest of the three reactors at the Mihama plant.


To see more of Kyodo News International, go to http://www.kyodonews.com (c) 2004, Kyodo News International, Tokyo. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.


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