Japan’s nuclear power plants are unlikely to resume operations by the end of the year because of the time it will take to complete safety checks under the new regulatory framework, a survey of the nation’s operators of atomic reactors showed Sunday.
Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi nuclear power station in Fukui Prefecture, which currently boasts the only two operational reactors in the country, is meanwhile scheduled to be suspended for an inspection in September, regardless of the new safety guidelines to be unveiled by the Nuclear Regulation Authority in July, according to the poll.
The survey, which canvassed nine regional utilities and Japan Atomic Power Co., also found that their financial burden is growing as they reinforce safety measures in response to the March 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
Power companies expect the cost of implementing the new standards to total at least ¥1.1 trillion, while Kepco alone said it will require ¥285.5 billion in the medium- to long-term, according to the survey.
But Kyushu Electric Power Co. was more upbeat, saying it could restart two of its reactors in July, providing the NRA swiftly completes the necessary safety inspections. All of the other nine companies polled declined to provide specific dates for restarting their atomic energy plants.
Although Shikoku Electric Power Co. said it aims to fire up its reactors at the earliest possible time, it has applied for government approval to hike household electricity rates based on the assumption that it will be able to restart its nuclear plant in Ikata, Ehime Prefecture, in July.
The Ikata facility is viewed as the best candidate to be granted approval to resume operations, as its reactors differ in design from those at the Fukushima No. 1 plant and it has enhanced earthquake-resistant facilities in the event of emergencies.
Still, a senior official at the Ikata complex said it will be “impossible to restart (its reactors) by year’s end” unless the NRA conducts its safety inspections more quickly.
NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka has pointed out that atomic power plant safety checks have previously taken between six months and a year to complete, at the very minimum. Although the nuclear watchdog is aiming to speed up the process, broader safety measures under the new standards are expected to make it difficult to complete the inspections by the end of December.
In the period since the 2011 quake-tsunami disaster sparked the Fukushima disaster, the nation has only had to cope with a complete suspension of nuclear power for about two months. All of Japan’s commercial reactors were idled between the halt of Hokkaido Electric Power Co.’s Tomari plant in May 2012 and the restart of the two units at the Oi complex that July.