Japan Regulator’s Safety Probe Heralds Nuclear Revival: Timeline

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority has vouched for the safety of Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear plant in the prefecture of Kagoshima about 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) southwest of Tokyo. The move sets the stage for the revival of Japan’s nuclear industry, which was effectively shut down by the Fukushima disaster more than three years ago. Japan had 36 of its reactors with a total capacity of 33.5 gigawatts on line in the week before the disaster.

Below is a timeline of events from 2011 to July 16.

March 11, 2011: A 9 magnitude earthquake strikes the coast of Japan, causing a tsunami that inundates towns north of Tokyo. The tsunami disables power supply and cooling of three Fukushima Dai-Ichi reactors.

March 11, 2011: Tokyo Electric Power Co. shuts seven reactors at its Fukushima Dai-Ichi and Dai-Ni plants.

March 12, 2011: Explosion near the No. 1 reactor at Fukushima Dai-Ichi destroys the walls of the reactor building and injures four people. The government says a hydrogen leak caused the blast.

May 6, 2011: Japan asks Chubu Electric Power Co. to shut all reactors at its Hamaoka plant southwest of Tokyo. The call to shut the reactors is the government’s first since the March 11 disaster at Fukushima.

June 2011: Japanese government sends report to the International Atomic Agency which criticizes the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency for its lack of independence from the trade ministry. The report also says the NISA is too close to the atomic power industry, which hampered a quick response to Fukushima.

June 20, 2011: Japan’s government raises the possibility that it will separate the nuclear regulator from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

July 6, 2011: Japan’s trade minister says safety tests will be carried out on halted nuclear reactors before allowing them to restart.

July 11, 2011: Trade ministry says a second stage of tests will be conducted on all reactors including those in operation.

Aug. 15, 2011: Japan’s government pledges to reform the oversight of nuclear safety. Key to the overhaul will be splitting the regulator from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Oct. 30, 2011: An independent commission is created to investigate the Fukushima accident.

Dec. 19, 2011: The International Atomic Energy Agency says it will send a team to Japan to review the status of the country’s stress tests on idled nuclear reactors.

March 23, 2012: Japan’s nuclear regulator says safety tests on two reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Ohi nuclear plant “proved the efficiency of safety measures to some extent.” Commission members are accused of being irresponsible and issuing a report without sufficient discussion and investigation.

May 5, 2012: Japan goes nuclear-free after Hokkaido Electric Power Co. shuts its No. 3 unit at its Tomari plant in northern Japan, leaving the country without an operating reactor for the first time since May 1970.

June 16, 2012: Japan’s prime minister at the time, Yoshihiko Noda, says Kansai Electric can restart its Ohi nuclear plant. Noda declares the two reactors safe to begin operations. The move comes after Japan’s biggest business lobby says power outages could lead to factory shutdowns and slow an economic recovery.

June 20, 2012: Bill passes in Japan’s House of Councilors creating the Nuclear Regulation Authority. The new authority is established to absorb and learn the lessons of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi disaster with the aim to protect the public and the environment by regulating nuclear activities.

July 1, 2012: Kansai Electric’s No. 3 Ohi reactor is restarted.

July 5, 2012: Independent parliamentary investigation releases a report saying the Fukushima nuclear disaster resulted from a mix of “man-made” factors including regulators who failed to provide adequate prevention and a government lacking commitment to protect the public.

July 18, 2012: Kansai Electric’s No. 4 Ohi reactor is restarted.

Sept. 19, 2012: Japan’s government inaugurates the Nuclear Regulation Authority and its secretariat, separating promotion of nuclear power from regulation of the same industry.

Jan. 31, 2013: Nuclear regulator approves new safety standards for atomic power plants. Facilities will need to build secondary control centers at least 100 meters from reactor buildings to manage emergency cooling systems. New radiation filter vents are also required.

July 8, 2013: Regional utilities begin applying to the nuclear regulator for safety checks. Applications are filed by Kansai Electric, Shikoku Electric Power Co., Hokkaido Electric and Kyushu Electric seeking the authority’s clearance to operate 10 reactors with a total installed capacity of 8.84 gigawatts.

Sept. 2, 2013: Kansai Electric says it halted the No. 3 reactor at its Ohi plant for maintenance, leaving Japan with only one operating reactor.

Sept. 15, 2013: Kansai Electric halts the No. 4 reactor at its Ohi plant for maintenance, leaving Japan nuclear-free for the first time since July 2012.

Nov. 14, 2013: Nuclear regulator says it has no fixed schedule to complete safety checks at idled atomic plants.

March 13, 2014: Nuclear regulator says it will expedite safety checks on two reactors. The review efforts will be focused on Kyushu Electric’s two reactors in Satsumasendai, Kagoshima. “We are satisfied with the attitude Kyushu Electric Power has shown on measures against serious accidents,” Toyoshi Fuketa, an NRA commissioner, says at the time. “Inspections of the Sendai No. 1 and No. 2 reactors are going smoothly.”

July 9, 2014: Nuclear Regulation Authority chairman says the draft inspection report on Kyushu Electric’s Sendai nuclear plant is complete and commissioners are examining the approximately 400-page document.

July 14, 2014: The Nuclear Regulation Authority says it plans to present its draft of a report into the safety of Kyushu Electric’s Sendai atomic plant when it holds its regular weekly meeting on July 16.

July 16, 2014: Regulator releases draft report on Kyushu Electric’s Sendai plant. Report says Kyushu Electric is following the procedures that will allow the reactors to operate safely during normal operations, and during accidents caused by earthquakes or other outside causes. Commissioners agree to move to the next stage and seek public comment.

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