Utilities need to decide whether to junk their aging reactors

JIJI

With some of the nation’s 48 idled nuclear reactors expected to resume operation this year, electrical utilities expect their earnings to benefit after years of costly fossil fuel imports to fill the shortfall in power output.

But some of the companies face difficulty deciding what to do with their aging reactors.

The government’s basic energy program, adopted in April 2014, calls for allowing the restart of reactors that pass new, tighter safety checks instituted in July 2013.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority has since received screening applications for 21 reactors at 14 power plants across the country.

Of them, the NRA has effectively confirmed that four meet the standards: the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, and the No. 3 and No. 4 rectors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture.

The NRA is also expected to confirm the safety of the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at Kyushu Electric’s Genkai plant in Saga Prefecture.

Makoto Yagi, chairman of the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan and president of Kansai Electric, says that the power industry is determined to “make all-out efforts to reactivate idled reactors early next year.”

But it would be difficult to bring all 48 reactors back online. Seven are around 40 years old, the standard life limit.

The government has asked power companies to decide soon whether they will decommission the seven or apply for extensions.

It would cost around ¥100 billion to fix up the seven oldest reactors to the standard required for extended certification. But it would also cost tens of billions of yen to decommission them.

Among other reactors, the No. 2 reactor at Japan Atomic Power Co.’s Tsuruga plant in Fukui Prefecture, and Tohoku Electric Power Co.’s Higashidori plant in Aomori Prefecture, could be forced out of service because of potentially active faults running beneath them.

To keep them in operation would require considerable investment in new safety measures.

With power companies being urged to come up with new long-term business strategies to boost their competitiveness toward the planned full liberalization of the electricity retail market in 2016, they need to select reactors that would be allowed to remain intact and others that should be scrapped, according to industry sources.