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Counterterrorism requirement puts financial strain on nuclear power plant operators

April 24, 2019
TOKYO — Nine nuclear reactors at five plants in Japan are expected to start going offline in succession from March 2020 because their operators cannot meet deadlines for implementing counterterrorism measures set by Japan’s nuclear regulator.
The five plants are operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co., Shikoku Electric Power Co., and Kansai Electric Power Co. They stand one to three years behind their respective deadlines for implementing counterterrorism measures set under a new policy of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA). The situation is likely to disrupt the power companies’ plans to win customers by lowering their fees through the operation of nuclear reactors.
“If things continue like this, we’ll have to stop operating the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant in about one year. From a management perspective it’s tough,” one Kyushu Electric official lamented.
According to the three companies, when one plant stops operating, fuel costs for operating thermal power plants to make up for the electricity supply increase by between 3.5 billion yen and 6.5 billion yen a month. Kansai Electric and Kyushu Electric, which have multiple reactors in operation, could see their operating costs balloon by around 100 billion yen a year as a result.
Amid intense competition with Osaka Gas and other new electricity retailers, it is not viable for the power companies to ask customers to pay more for electricity.
Shikoku Electric in western Japan has already decided to decommission the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at its Ikata Nuclear Power Plant in Ehime Prefecture, and operation of the plant’s No. 3 reactor, the sole remaining one, was viewed as a major premise for establishing stable financial management.
In light of the situation, the power companies’ sale of electricity to other firms is set to decrease, which is certain to hit power companies in the pocket — highlighting the risks of relying on nuclear power.
The nuclear regulator’s move is also likely to significantly affect Japan Atomic Power Co.’s plans to restart its Tokai No. 2 Power Station in Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo. In November last year, the power plant passed screening by the NRA to enable its reactivation, and received permission to keep operating for another 20 years. However, it has not even compiled an estimate for the cost of building a facility required under the counterterrorism guidelines.
Under NRA rules, nuclear plant operators are required to build facilities at least 100 meters away from reactor buildings that are able to remotely prevent meltdowns if the units come under terrorist attacks such as planes being flown into them. The facilities must be built within five years of the NRA approving plant construction plans.
A Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry official observed, “This could be described as a birth pang in the process of boosting safety, but it’s an unfavorable wind in the short term.” Meanwhile, Tadashi Narabayashi, a specially appointed professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology, commented, “Power companies were hoping that things would go easy for them, but the NRA should have made it clear from the outset that they were not going to allow any extensions beyond the 5-year limit. The responsibility for the confusion lies on both sides.”

May 1, 2019 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Japan to shut down nuclear plants if counterterror steps not taken in time

April 24, 2019
Japan’s nuclear regulator decided Wednesday not to let power companies operate reactors if they fail to install sufficient counterterrorism measures by specified deadlines.
The decision by the Nuclear Regulation Authority came after three utilities that operate five nuclear plants in western and southwestern Japan requested that their deadlines be extended as they expect delays in completing counterterrorism steps required under stricter regulations introduced in 2013 following the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
Kyushu Electric Power Co., Kansai Electric Power Co. and Shikoku Electric Power Co. had sought to postpone their five-year deadlines by one to three years, citing reasons such as the need to carry out massive construction work.
The three companies told the NRA that the measures would not be on time at 10 of their reactors, according to documents published on the regulator’s website.
But the regulator has declined their requests for extensions.
The power plant operators are required to build facilities that can keep reactors cool via remote control and prevent the massive release of radioactive materials if the units are the target of a terrorist attack, such as from planes being flown into them.
Nuclear plant operators need to set up such facilities within five years of the nuclear safety watchdog approving detailed construction plans for the plants.
But several firms have warned they will not meet these criteria. The NRA said after a meeting earlier Wednesday it would no longer push back the deadline as it has done in the past.
“There is no need to extend the deadline, and nuclear facilities have to stop operations if the operators fail to meet it,” an NRA official said.
He added that several other reactors were also at risk of being shut down.
A reactor at the Sendai power plant in Kyushu could be the first to be suspended if Kyushu Electric Power fails to finish work by the deadline next March.
Following the No. 1 reactor at the Sendai plant, the No. 2 reactor at the complex is facing a deadline in May 2020. The deadline for the No. 3 reactor at the Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture operated by Kansai Electric is August 2020.
At an NRA meeting Wednesday, one of the commissioners said, “The construction work did not fall behind schedule because of natural disaster,” expressing the view that there is no need to extend the deadlines.
“We cannot overlook the operations of nuclear facilities when they become incompatible with meeting standards,” NRA Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa said.
Before the Fukushima disaster, Japan relied on nuclear power for roughly 30 percent of its electricity. But this declined to less than 2 percent after the crisis as reactors were suspended for emergency safety checks, with many unable to resume operations under the stricter rules. The ratio has since recovered somewhat, but it remains below 10 percent due to a protracted process of stringent safety checks by the regulator.
Shares of all three companies tumbled on the news. Kansai Electric ended down 7.8 percent, Kyushu Electric fell 5.3 percent and Shikoku Electric dropped 5 percent.
A draft by the industry ministry said nuclear should account for 20 to 22 percent of power supply in 2030 and renewables 22 to 24 percent, in line with the trade ministry’s goals set in 2015.
But many experts view the nuclear target as difficult to achieve in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima crisis, which led to a big shift in public opinion after it exposed industrial and regulatory failings and led to the shutdown of all the country’s reactors.

May 1, 2019 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment