Restarting Japan’s reactors is proving difficult

29 July 2016

A report by Japan’s Institute of Energy Economics (IEEJ), “Economic and Energy Outlook of Japan through 2017”, says, according to its standard scenario, seven reactors will be restarted in the current fiscal year, by the end of 31 March 2017, and a further 19 in the following year to the end of March 2018. These would generate some 119.8TWh of electricity a year, compared with total nuclear output of 288.2TWh in FY2010, the year before the Fukushima accident.

The IEEJ's high-case scenario assumes a total of 25 units are restarted by the end of FY2017, generating 151.2TWh annually relative to the low-case scenario where only 12 reactors are assumed to restart, producing 39.1TWh. 

However, the report notes a number of uncertainties surrounding the restarts, including judicial judgments and local agreements. "Gradually, the passing of safety checks and the process of restarting [reactors] under the new regulation standards is proceeding," the IEEJ said. "And yet, there is still much ambiguity including judicial ruling and/or local acceptance which will influence the pace of restart."

To date four reactors have been restarted in Japan after meeting the new regulatory standards imposed by the Nuclear Regulation Authority in the wake of Fukushima. Applications for 22 additional reactor restarts have been filed. All of Japan’s 48 commercial reactor units were shut down for safety checks and upgrades following the Fukushima-Daiichi accident, and five have since been scheduled for permanent shutdown, bringing the number of potentially operable commercial units to 43.

The restarted reactors are units 1 and 2 at Kyushu Electric Power Company’s Sendai NPP in Kagoshima Prefecture and units 3 and 4 at Kansai Electric’s Takahama NPP in Fukui Prefecture. However the Takahama units were closed again after a court issued a temporary injunction following a protest lodged by local residents. Kansai is appealing against the ruling. The Sendai units may also face closure, after newly elected Kagoshima governor Satoshi Mitazono announced plans to request a temporary halt to their operation, possibly in August.  He told  a news conference that people in Kagoshima are worried about the NPP after the series of powerful earthquakes in neighbouring Kumamoto in April.

Even business support for nuclear appears to be waning.  Teruo Asada, vice chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai), said in late July that Japan was unlikely meet a government target of returning to near pre-Fukushima levels of nuclear generation. Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's energy policies, nuclear is supposed to supply a fifth of energy generation by 2030.

Influential business lobby Keizai Doyukai has issued a proposal urging the government to remove hurdles for renewable power given the poor outlook for nuclear power following Fukushima. "We have a sense of crisis that Japan will become a laughing stock if we do not encourage renewable power," said Asada, who is also chairman of trading house Marubeni Corp. 

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