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e-Magazine (For the Japanese version of this article)

Series: Understanding Japan through Key Words (Part3) Nuclear Power Plant Reactivation [Date of Issue: 30/September/2014 No.0235-0944]

Date of Issue: 30/September/2014

Series: Understanding Japan through Key Words (Part3)
Nuclear Power Plant Reactivation

This refers to resuming operations at nuclear power plants closed for routine checkups. All 48 nuclear power stations in Japan have been idling since inspection of the No. 4 reactor at Kansai Electric Power Company's Oi Nuclear Power Plant (Oi, Fukui Prefecture) began in September 2013. Plants need to pass safety checks conducted by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) in relation to their accident and disaster management regimes before they can be restarted, with the first plant possibly back in operation as early as this winter.

The government requires nuclear power plants to be shut down every 13 months for a regular inspection that assesses the soundness of facilities. These inspections normally take two or three months, after which plants can go back online. This time, however, plants taken offline after the accident at Tokyo Electric's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant have simply remained there.

In FY2010 before the Fukushima accident, nuclear power accounted for 28.6 percent of Japan's total power generation, but in FY2013, this plummeted to 1.0 percent. To fill the gap, power companies have been running their thermal power stations at full throttle, to the extent that thermal power accounted for 88.3 percent of Japan's power in FY2013. The resulting higher fuel costs have led power companies to raise power prices, with households now paying around 20 percent more and companies 30 percent more than before the Fukushima accident.

Concerned that a long-term nuclear power shutdown could impact negatively on the economy, the Abe administration wants to restart those power plants that the NRA finds compliant with the new regulatory standards. The standards include a wide range of safety measures such as building emergency command centers and ensuring a backup power source. Utilities are also required to estimate the potential strength of earthquakes in light of factors such as nearby active fault lines and carry out seismic reinforcing work accordingly. The Abe administration's Basic Energy Plan, which has been adopted by Cabinet decision, clearly states that the new regulatory requirements are "the most stringent level in the world."

Since the new regulations went into effect in July 2013, the NRA has received applications for the inspection of 19 reactors at 12 nuclear power plants (as at 11 August 2014). In July 2014, Reactors 1 and 2 at Kyushu Electric's Sendai Nuclear Power Plant (Satsumasendai, Kagoshima Prefecture) were given provisional approval in terms of their safety measures. While the plant's management systems and construction plans have yet to be verified, inspections are expected to be formally completed this fall.

In fact, before nuclear power plants can be restarted, not only does permission need to be garnered from local authorities, but pre-utilization inspections need to be conducted to check that machinery has been installed exactly to plan. These inspections are expected to take one to two months. Next to restart after the two Sendai reactors are likely to be the No. 3 and 4 reactors at Kansai Electric's Takahama plant (Takahama, Fukui Prefecture) and the No. 3 and 4 reactors at Kyushu Electric's Genkai plant (Genkai, Saga Prefecture).

(original article : Japanese)

*This article was written by a specialist journalist.
(For the Japanese version of this article)


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