TSURUGA, FUKUI PREF. – Two reactors will go offline for routine checks on Sept. 15, the first time the nation will be without electricity generated by nuclear power in more than a year, government sources said.
It will be the second time that all of the nation’s 50 commercial reactors are offline at the same time since the 2011 Fukushima No. 1 plant disaster started, sparking public fears about the safety of nuclear power.
The two reactors currently online are units 3 and 4 at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi plant in Fukui Prefecture. The utility has reported to the Nuclear Regulation Authority that the checks for reactor 3 unit will start Sept. 2, and plans to report that checks for unit 4 unit will commence Sept. 15.
Nuclear reactors are required to undergo inspections every 13 months. Utilities have to file applications with authorities a month ahead of time.
Last year, Japan was without nuclear power for the first time in more than 40 years amid the Fukushima nuclear crisis, triggered by a huge earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.
After about two months, the government allowed the restart of the two reactors at the Oi plant to address possible power shortages in the summer in western Japan.
No other reactors have been brought back online since, but Japan is now moving closer to restarting some units as procedures to check their safety based on a set of new regulations commenced in July.
The safety evaluation of the reactors, however, may take around six months, meaning Japan will see nuclear power generation drop to zero again after the two Oi plant reactors are taken offline.
Before the nuclear crisis, nuclear power supplied around 30 percent of Japan’s total electricity.
Tepco to turn profit?
Tokyo Electric Power Co. expects to log a pretax profit of about ¥34 billion in the fiscal year through next March if it can restart its idled reactors in January, sources close to the utility and its lenders said Tuesday.
Tepco, which is struggling with the heavy costs of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, is trying hard to turn a profit in fiscal 2013 because it is a condition for the utility to continue to receive bank loans.
According to an estimate Tepco presented to its lenders, the condition will be satisfied if the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture resumes operation in January, because returning to atomic power will help the utility reduce fuel costs for thermal power generation.
But the prospects on when Tepco can restart the plant are unclear, with Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida opposed to the firm’s plan to apply for state safety evaluation of two reactors at the seven-reactor facility.
The estimate also showed that, even if no reactors are brought back online, Tepco could still post a pretax profit of ¥60 billion if it resorts to an 8.5 percent electricity rate hike in January.