Japan’s regulator approves more restarts

15 November 2016

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) approved a preliminary report on 9 November that says units 3 and 4 at Kyushu Electric Power Co’s Genkai NPP meet post-Fukushima safety rules – a necessary condition for restart. A 30-day comment period must be held before any final approval.  Following NRA inspections, Kyushu Electric carried out modifications to the design of an onsite emergency response facility at Genkai. The facility will serve as a centralised headquarters in the event of a severe accident.

NRA’s draft reports will take official form after hearings at the Japan Atomic Energy Commission and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and a period for comments from the general public. Genkai-3 and -4 are both 1,127MWe pressurised water reactors. Unit 3 was shut down for an annual outage in December 2010 and Unit 4 in December 2011. The units were never restarted following a nationwide nuclear shutdown as a result of the March 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi accident.

However, the possibility of legal action and local opposition could delay their restart. Almost 51% of the citizens of Saga prefecture, where the Genkai plant is located, oppose its restart, while 39.3% approve, according to a recent regional newspaper. The same poll last year showed that 45.3% against and 46.8% in favour.

Japan aims to have nuclear energy supply 22% of its energy mix by 2030, compared with more than a quarter before Fukushima and a little more than 1% now. Last year, Kyushu Electric restarted units 1 and 2 at its Sendai NPP, becoming the first utility to bring a reactor back online since new safety rules were brought in following the Fukushima disaster.

Restarting the two Genkai units would boost net income by JPY12bn ($117m) a month, Naoko Iguchi, Tokyo-based spokeswoman for the utility, told Bloomberg. Sendai 1 and 2 increased net income by JPY33bn for the six months ended 30 September, Masakatsu Tanaka, an official in Kyushu Electric’s Tokyo office, said last month.

The Genkai reactors are expected to restart in the fiscal year ending March 2018, the Nikkei reported last month. The company would consider lowering power rates once four units are online, Tokyo-based Kenji Kawabata, the company’s deputy regional director, said last year. On 6 October Kyushu Electric shut Sendai 1 for maintenance and its return to service could be delayed following the recent election of a new governor in Kagoshima who strongly opposes its operation. Local government approval - including endorsement from the governor - is traditionally sought by Japanese utilities before returning plants to service.

Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) has completed two draft reports on the compatibility of the Genkai-3 and -4 nuclear reactor units with the country’s new regulatory standards, put in place after the 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear accident, the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (Jaif) said. Owner Kyushu Electric Power Company submitted applications for the compatibility reports for the two units to the NRA in July 2013, Jaif said.

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