Energy 18 August, 2017 11:00 am   
Editorial staff

How to protect Poland’s nuclear power plant. An example from Japan (reportage)

The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant is the biggest facility of this kind in the world. Japan’s TEPCO invited to pay a visit to the installation. This is a case study useful for Poland.

The land of rice and sake 

The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant is located in the Niigata prefecture on the coast of the Sea of Japan, about 220 km from Tokyo. It encompasses 4.2 sq km together with the city of Kashiwazaki and the village of Kariwa. The region is known for its rice and high quality sake. During the Edo period it was unpopular in the rest of the country because of numerous military conflicts with its neighbors.

The facility is managed by TEPCO. It is the same company that managed the Fukushima Daiichi power station. Kashiwazaki has been in operation since April 1985. It has seven reactors, which were gradually commissioned – in 1985, 1996, 1997. Reactors 1-5 were constructed on the basis of the BWR technology. Reactors 6 and 7 use the ABWR technology. The ABWR was provided to Kashiwazaki by Toshiba, Hitachi and General Electric. In contrast to their predecessors which have the capacity of 1100 MWe, reactors 6 and 7’s capacity is 1356 MWe. The total capacity of all units is 8212 MWe.

Fukushima: fuel for the offensive, not retreat 

The Japanese learned from the disaster at Fukushima. The new ABRW reactors are compatible with EU regulations. Additionally soft and hard security measures have been introduced. The PR department has been expanded to a scale that is unheard of at Polish installations.

The first resistance test for the facility was the Niigataken Chuetsu-Oki earthquake that occurred on 16 July 2007 and had a magnitude of 6.8 on the Richer scale. Its epicenter was located 16 km away from the power plant. All of Kashiwazaki’s reactors were successfully disconnected from the grid despite damages sustained by the office building, the collapse of the ground by the main road and a fire in the transformer’s building.

After the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, which took place on 11 March 2011, the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power plant was shut down to, among others, audit the existing security measures and introduce new ones. Japan’s retreat from the atom was not chaotic. Contrary to the opinions expressed in western press, it also did not assume in advance that this type of energy would be abandoned once and for all. Instead, the Japanese decided to get ready for a repeat of the tsunami from 2011.

According to the new requirements the facility must be ready to withstand a purposeful hit by a plane and a dispersion of radioactive material. It also needs to survive hurricanes, tornadoes, volcano eruptions, thunder strikes and forest fires. The 20-meter wall of concrete that separates the power plant from the local forest looks spectacular. A 15 meters high wall (the wave in Fukushima was 15 meters tall above the sea level) surrounds Kashiwazaki from the side of the shore. Additionally, the plant is protected by a levy made of concrete and soil. The facility has autonomous power and cooling systems. All possible scenarios are practiced at the local training center, which is the only place of this kind in Japan after the one in Fukushima was shut down after the disaster. Employees from TEPCO and other companies are trained there. The TEPCO employees can be recognized thanks to the obligatory uniforms in the colors of their employer.

Kashiwazaki did not waste the shutdown period. Modernization and maintenance works were conducted after the reactors went offline. The construction of chimneys was reinforced, which is why they look less like the slim towers of the Bełchatów power plant and more like the Eiffel Tower’s truss. The facility’s pipes were reinforced with additional cantilevers and waterproof insulation was installed in places where they touch the buildings. The doors to the key rooms of the power station were reinforced with waterproof installations in case tsunami water reaches the facility.

Peaceful protests and powerful PR

Thanks to the specificity of the Japanese culture, nuclear power plants criticized by the communist and socialist parties have never witnessed the protests known from anti-nuclear movements in Europe. Our interlocutors from Kashiwazaki Kariwa argued that the talks were peaceful and excluded aggressive actions such as chaining to the facility, familiar in our part of the world.

Local protests took place at Kashiwazaki every day. Political parties organized associated events. When Greenpeace Poland organized protests at locations where nuclear power plants could be potentially built, the organization invited representatives of the community from Fukushima to talk about the scale of destruction caused by the nuclear disaster. This topic sparked a lot of interests among our interlocutors from TEPCO.

The PR department plays an important role in supporting the smooth operation of the facility. It includes seven communication groups that employ a hundred people. These are the people who work permanently in Kashiwazaki and Kariwa, not the staff that works at TEPCO’s headquarters. In comparison, only a handful of people are responsible for public relations at the Polish Ministry of Energy.

The respective departments handle various issues related to external relations. There are separate departments responsible for administration, PR, press information, as well as education. There are also separate legal departments for the city of Kashiwazaki and the village of Kariwa. There is even a department responsible for guest visits at the facility, with which I met.

According to TEPCO’s strategy the information flow has to be quick, simple and interactive. To achieve this goal the company convenes regular meetings with the local government, q&a sessions, shares news with the press and organizes conferences. TEPCO representatives are obliged to take part in public events important for the local community. This also applies to ordinary workers, all of whom have to be the company’s face. The firm cooperates with a network of opinion leaders whose views are taken into consideration especially by the PR department. TEPCO takes part in the meetings of the local youth parliament and economic commission.

Kashiwazaki-Kariwa’s experience can be applied to the Polish nuclear power plant project. The first cue is to create a large PR team. In Poland there are professionals who acquired experience working on the Świnoujście LNG terminal team, which successfully used the latest solutions to facilitate dialogue with the local communities. Currently the LNG terminal is not considered controversial, it actually even became a tourist attraction. However, the construction of a nuclear power plant will be a much bigger endeavor. If we decide to pursue it, we have to do it as perfectly as the Japanese. We should start with constructing a professional information team at PGE EJ1, the company responsible for Poland’s nuclear power plant.