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Japan May Be Nuclear Free by May as Tests Delay Restarts

Japan may have no nuclear reactors running by May next year should the round of tests announced by the government this week cause further delays to restarting units idled for maintenance, a Bloomberg survey shows.

Shikoku Electric Power Co. today said it delayed starting a reactor that was due to resume in two days. About two-thirds of Japan’s 54 reactors have been shut down by the March earthquake and tsunami or because of regular checks, leading to power- saving measures in parts of the country.

The so-called stress tests on nuclear stations were announced two days ago by Trade Ministry Banri Kaieda, almost three weeks after he declared all reactors safe. The turnaround prompted a mayor to yesterday retract his approval for Kyushu Electric Power Co. to start two units that were due to resume operations in April.

“It would have made sense if stress tests were announced before Trade Minister Kaieda said Japan’s nuclear plants are safe,” said Tetsuo Ito, the head of the Atomic Energy Research Institute at Kinki University in western Japan. “Residents around reactors must feel really insulted.”

The remaining operating units in Japan, the world’s third- biggest user of nuclear power, must be idled by May next year, according to schedules provided to Bloomberg by Kyushu Electric, Shikoku Electric, Tokyo Electric Power Co., Kansai Electric Power Co. and the other power companies. The U.S. and France are the biggest users of atomic power.

Reactor Meltdowns

No reactor has been restarted since the quake and tsunami caused three reactor meltdowns, according to Kyushu Electric Power Co. and other companies surveyed by Bloomberg. All plants are required to close for maintenance every 13 months.

The 17-member Topix Electric Power & Gas Index fell 4.7 percent yesterday, the most in a month, because of concern the delays will mean utilities need to spend more on costlier fuel for thermal plants to meet power demand. The index rose 1.4 percent today.

Kaieda has been urging local authorities in southwestern Japan to agree to restart the reactors at Kyushu Electric’s Genkai station that were closed for maintenance. The stress tests will be carried out on the reactors before they go back online, Kaieda said.

Kaieda said on July 6 Japan’s safety checks will take into consideration similar tests being carried out in Europe on nuclear plants that evaluate whether reactors can withstand disasters such as quakes and floods as well as plane crashes and explosions.

New Guidelines

“We still have to study what kind of stress tests will actually be done,” Yoshinori Moriyama, deputy director-general for nuclear accident measures at Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, told reporters yesterday. “I can’t say at this point how much time will be required.”

Prime Minister Naoto Kan also said this week new nuclear power plant safety guidelines are needed. Kaieda didn’t consult Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission, which oversees NISA, before announcing in June that the country’s plants are safe, Kan said.

The Genkai reactors can’t come back online without a clear policy, the governor of the prefecture where the plant is located said.

“Unless the national government takes a uniform position, prefectural governments such as ours can’t act,” Yasushi Furukawa, the governor of Saga prefecture, where the Genkai plant is located, said yesterday in Tokyo.

Shikoku Electric, which was due to start the No. 3 reactor at its Ikata plant after maintenance, delayed the move because it hasn’t received agreement from local residents, the company said in a statement.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tsuyoshi Inajima in Tokyo at tinajima@bloomberg.net; Chisaki Watanabe in Tokyo at cwatanabe5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Amit Prakash at aprakash1@bloomberg.net; Andrew Hobbs at ahobbs4@bloomberg.net

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