Japan Slowly Re-Starting its Nuclear Fleet Four Years after the Fukushima Daiichi Accident
In response to the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident, the Japanese government mandated the temporary shutdown of its 48 operable nuclear reactors as each entered scheduled maintenance and refueling outages. The purpose of these shutdowns was to provide Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRA)—the Japanese equivalent of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission—time to certify that each reactor was in compliance with more stringent safety standards.
By September 2013, Japan’s entire nuclear fleet, which prior to Fukushima comprised approximately 46,000 MW of capacity and provided 30% of the nation’s electricity generation, was in forced shutdown. In order for reactors to be restarted, operators must show that they are in compliance with the NRA’s new regulations relating to tsunamis, seismic events, and other events that could result in the complete loss of power at a generating station. In addition to complying with the new NRA regulations, operators must also receive approval from the central government and the local prefecture (similar to province) where the unit is located prior to restarting.
On August 11, 2015, Kyusha Electric Power Co.’s Sendai 1 (890 MW) became the first reactor in Japan to restart post Fukushima, and returned to commercial operations on September 12. Five days later, on September 17, Sendai 2 (890 MW) completed the refueling process and is estimated to restart in mid-October and resume commercial operations in November.
- In response to the NRA’s new post-Fukushima rules, five reactors totaling 2,100 MW were permanently shut down (these reactors were smaller and older units)
- According to Kyusha Electric Power Co., the owner of Sendai Units 1 and 2 and another nuclear generating plant, the cost of complying with the new NRA requirements was more than 300 billion yen or approximately $2.5 billion
- In addition to Sendai Units 1 and 2, the NRA has certified that three additional units, Kansai Electric Power Company’s Takahama 3 and 4, and Shikoku Electric Power Company’s Ikata 3, are in compliance with the new requirements. Though these plants have received their NRA certification, all are currently opposed by the local prefecture, so it is unknown if/when they will be brought back into service
- The image below illustrates the current capacity of Japan’s nuclear fleet (as compared to 2012 capacity)
Current Status of Nuclear Capacity in Japan in MW (compared to 2012 capacity)
Source: U.S. Energy Information Agency
- The mandated nuclear shutdowns required Japan’s utility operators to import coal, oil, and natural gas to generate electricity. The increased reliance on fossil fuels increased household electricity rates by nearly 20%, industrial rates by nearly 30%, and resulted in Japanese utilities spending approximately $30 billion on fuel imports in 2014
- Though the reactors in Sendai are restarting, public perception of nuclear remains negative as illustrated by an August survey conducted by one of the nation’s largest newspapers that reported 57% of respondents were not in favor of restarting Sendai
- Even with the negative public perception of nuclear power, Japan still plans on nuclear generation comprising 20% to 22% of generating capacity by 2030
- Nuclear Energy Institute: Japan Nuclear Update
- U.S. Energy Information Administration: Japan restarts first nuclear reactor under new safety rules
- Bloomberg Business: Japan Returns to Atomic Club with Restart Amid Public Opposition
This report is part of the Nuclear Minute series. To view all featured Minutes, please click here.
Contributing Author: Marcus Siwemuke and Eric Hansonview more