Japan Inches Closer to Nuclear Revival as 3rd Reactor Starts

  • Kansai Electric restarted Takahama No. 3 unit on Friday
  • Restarts aid government target of nuclear share in energy mix

The restart of the third nuclear reactor in Japan to clear post-Fukushima safety rules on Friday is a small step in the country’s quest to reestablish atomic energy as part of its energy mix.

Kansai Electric Power Co. resumed operations at the No. 3 unit of its Takahama plant near the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto at 5:00 p.m., the company said in a statement. The country’s 40 other operable reactors remain shut in the aftermath of the massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 that caused a meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi facility. Twenty-five have applied to restart.

More nuclear-powered electricity generation will help reduce Japan’s fuel import bill and lead to lower electricity rates for consumers. The restart will also help the government reach its goal of having nuclear power make up as much as 22 percent of the nation’s energy needs by 2030. A total of about 30 to 33 reactors will need to restart to meet the government’s target, according to Syusaku Nishikawa, a Tokyo-based analyst at Daiwa Securities Co.

The restart at Takahama “underscores the country’s commitment to returning to nuclear energy,” said Rob Chang, a managing director and head of metals and mining for Canada, who forecasts three reactors will come back online this year, bringing the nation’s total to five. Eight more will start in 2017 and a total of 37 reactors will be online by 2020, he said in an e-mail.

Imported Fuels

Japan’s power utilities were forced to shut down all atomic reactors in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, driving up its dependence on imported fuels. Kansai Electric said that it will begin fueling the Takahama No. 4 reactor on Jan. 31.

Japan imported about 85 million metric tons of LNG last year, down 3.9 percent from the previous year in the first decline since 2009, according to data from the country’s finance ministry. Thermal coal imports rose to a record.

The country’s LNG imports will fall by 2.4 million tons this year and by a further 2.2 million tons in 2017, largely because of the restart of nuclear plants, Energy Aspects Ltd., a London-based consultant, said in a report Wednesday.

Kyushu Electric Power Co. restarted its Sendai No. 1 and No. 2 units on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu in August. They were the first in the nation to clear the Nuclear Regulatory Authority’s safety standards, receive local approval and resume operations under the post-Fukushima rules. Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata No. 3 facility is slated to begin operating this year after receiving regulatory and local approvals.

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