Japan Won’t Set Dates for Restarting 50 Idled Nuclear Reactors

Japan’s nuclear regulator said it has no fixed schedule to complete safety checks at idled atomic plants, possibly delaying reactor restarts and the supply of cheaper energy the government wants to drive economic growth.

Speculation on when some of Japan’s 50 reactors would restart increased this year as the Nuclear Regulation Authority introduced stricter safety tests in July in response to the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima. NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said at the time the inspections would take about six months, suggesting some atomic plants may restart in January.

The NRA now says Tanaka was speaking generally and not citing a set schedule. “We are not sure when inspections will complete because the period of inspections depends largely on operators’ response,” NRA spokesman Tadashi Yamada said in an e-mailed response on Nov. 14. “We do not have a time frame.”

Any delays will be a setback for the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which wants to restart some of the reactors to help drive Japan out of decades of economic stagnation. Delays also may foster growing public disapproval of nuclear power and dissent within his own party on the issue.

Shutting Japan’s reactors after Fukushima has caused the nation’s trade deficit to balloon because of the cost of importing fuels such as liquefied natural gas, oil and coal for running replacement power plants.

Wealth Loss

The combined fuel costs for the country’s nine regional power companies will almost double to 7.5 trillion yen ($75 billion) this fiscal year ending March 31, 2014, from three years earlier, the Ministry of Trade, Economy, and Industry estimated in an Oct. 9 report. The estimate assumes no reactors will restart by March.

Additional fossil-fuel imports would push Japan into its third consecutive annual trade deficit in the year ending in March, the government-affiliated Institute of Energy Economics, Japan, said in an August report.

“The industry’s fuel costs for thermal plants have almost doubled from the level prior to the earthquake, causing an outflow of Japan’s national wealth,” Makoto Yagi, chairman of the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, said at a Nov. 15 press conference.

Nuclear power has a role to play in Japan’s energy master plan because the country’s energy self-sufficiency rate is only about 4 percent, said Yagi, who is also president of Kansai Electric Power Co., the country’s second-biggest utility and the one most dependent on nuclear power. He declined to comment on the progress of safety checks at reactors.

Inspection Teams

Surging fuel costs are translating into higher electricity bills for households and companies, leading to warnings businesses may take investments and jobs to other countries.

All of Japan’s reactors are idled for safety assessments after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns and radiation leaks at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant. The NRA was set up after the disaster to independently review Japan’s nuclear power plants, the source of more than a quarter of the country’s electricity before the accident.

The assessments include plant visits, computer simulations and safety-documentation checks. The agency has three teams to inspect reactors, with as many as 20 people in each group, while an additional team concentrates on earthquake and tsunami hazards.

Inspectors Wanted

The NRA has an advertisement for job openings for more inspectors on its website. The agency hasn’t decided how many inspectors it will hire, according to spokesman Yamada. The electricity utilities submitted restart applications for 10 reactors when the NRA began accepting inspection requests on July 8. Applications for another four units have since been filed.

Tokyo Electric, Japan’s biggest utility, has applied for checks on two reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, while Kansai Electric filed applications for four reactors at its Ohi and Takahama plants.

Hokkaido Electric Power Co. applied for three reactors at its Tomari plant, while Kyushu Electric Power Co. asked for four units to be checked at its Sendai and Genkai plants. Shikoku Electric Power Co. filed an application for one reactor at its Ikata plant.

The inspections are taking place against a backdrop of repeated accidents and radioactive water leaks at Tokyo Electric’s Fukushima plant, further eroding support in the country for nuclear power.

Koizumi Speech

Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi became the latest public figure to speak out against atomic power, telling a packed crowd at the Japan National Press Club on Nov. 12 that the country should abandon nuclear power.

Surveys published in the Asahi and Mainichi newspapers on Nov. 12 found 60 percent and 54 percent of respondents respectively agreed with Koizumi.

As the Prime Minister faces nuclear critics among citizens and within his own party, he doesn’t get much relief at home. Akie Abe, his wife, has gone public with her doubts about her husband promoting the sale of Japanese nuclear technology overseas while dealing with a nuclear disaster at home.

“While we’re unable to contain a nuclear plant accident at home, I question whether it’s appropriate to sell them abroad,” Akie Abe said at a Nov. 12 event sponsored by the Hokkaido Shimbun, according to the newspaper’s website. “I’ve been telling my husband it’s not the right time to sell, but he won’t listen to me.”

The following table includes data on reactor types, original reactor start dates, current state of operations and status of safety-check applications to the NRA. Capacities are given in megawatts.

Boiling water reactors (BWR), including advanced boiling water reactors (ABWR), must install filtration vents before restarting. Pressurized water reactors (PWR) are required to install the vents within five years after resuming operations.

Hokkaido Electric Power Co.
No. 1   579      PWR    June 1989   Idled; Applied July 8, 2013
No. 2   579      PWR    Apr. 1991   Idled; Applied July 8, 2013
No. 3   912      PWR    Dec. 2009   Idled; Applied July 8, 2013

Tohoku Electric Power Co.
No. 1   524      BWR    June 1984   Idled
No. 2   825      BWR    July 1995   Idled
No. 3   825      BWR    Jan. 2002   Idled
No. 1   1,100    BWR    Dec. 2005   Idled

Tokyo Electric Power Co.
Fukushima Dai-Ichi
No. 5     784    BWR    April 1978  Idled
No. 6   1,100    BWR    Oct. 1979   Idled
Fukushima Dai-Ni
No. 1   1,100    BWR    April 1982  Idled
No. 2   1,100    BWR    Feb. 1984   Idled
No. 3   1,100    BWR    June 1985   Idled
No. 4   1,100    BWR    Aug. 1987   Idled
Kashiwazaki Kariwa
No. 1   1,100    BWR    Sept. 1985  Idled
No. 2   1,100    BWR    Sept. 1990  Idled
No. 3   1,100    BWR    Aug. 1993   Idled
No. 4   1,100    BWR    Aug. 1994   Idled
No. 5   1,100    BWR    Apr. 1990   Idled
No. 6   1,356    ABWR   Nov. 1996   Idled; Applied Sept. 27,
No. 7   1,356    ABWR   July 1997   Idled: Applied Sept. 27,

Chubu Electric Power Co.
No. 3   1,100    BWR    Aug. 1987   Idled
No. 4   1,137    BWR    Sept. 1993  Idled
No. 5   1,380    ABWR   Jan. 2005   Idled

Hokuriku Electric Power Co.
No. 1    540     BWR    July 1993   Idled
No. 2    1,206   ABWR   March 2006  Idled

Kansai Electric Power Co.
No. 1    340     PWR    Nov. 1970   Idled
No. 2    500     PWR    July 1972   Idled
No. 3    826     PWR    Dec. 1976   Idled

No. 1    1,175   PWR    March 1979  Idled
No. 2    1,175   PWR    Dec. 1979   Idled
No. 3    1,180   PWR    Dec. 1991   Idled; Applied July 8, 2013
No. 4    1,180   PWR    Feb. 1993   Idled; Applied July 8, 2013

No. 1    826     PWR    Nov. 1974   Idled
No. 2    826     PWR    Nov. 1975   Idled
No. 3    870     PWR    Jan. 1985   Idled; Applied July 8, 2013
No. 4    870     PWR    June 1985   Idled; Applied July 8, 2013

Chugoku Electric Power Co.
No. 1    460     BWR    March 1974  Idled
No. 2    820     BWR    Feb. 1989   Idled

Shikoku Electric Power Co.
No. 1    566     PWR    Sept. 1977  Idled
No. 2    566     PWR    March 1982  Idled
No. 3    890     PWR    Dec. 1994   Idled; Applied July 8, 2013

Kyushu Electric Power Co.
No. 1    559     PWR    Oct. 1975   Idled
No. 2    559     PWR    March 1981  Idled
No. 3    1,180   PWR    March 1994  Idled; Applied July 12,
No. 4    1,180   PWR    July 1997   Idled; Applied July 12,
No. 1    890     PWR    July 1984   Idled; Applied July 8, 2013
No. 2    890     PWR    Nov. 1985   Idled; Applied July 8, 2013

Japan Atomic Power Co.
No. 1    357     BWR    March 1970  Idled
No. 2    1,160   BWR    Feb. 1987   Idled

Tokai Dai-Ni
No. 1    1,100   BWR    Nov. 1978   Idled

Sources: Federation of Electric Power Cos. of Japan; Company Statements; Nuclear Regulation Authority

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