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Fukui’s push for reactor restarts reflects local economy’s reliance on nuclear power

Kyodo

Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa’s decision on Monday to give the go-ahead to restarting two reactors at the Oi nuclear plant highlights the local economy’s dependence on nuclear power, even 6½ years after the March 2011 Fukushima disaster.

At a news conference, Nishikawa offered what he sees as the merits of a restart, saying the plant will “have a (positive) impact on the medical, agriculture and fisheries industries.”

The reactors at the Kansai Electric Power Co. plant, located on the Sea of Japan coast, are set to go online starting in January.

Nishikawa’s comments reflect how the prolonged suspension of nuclear plants has weakened the local economy. Fukui Prefecture is home to the highest number of nuclear power plants among all 47 prefectures.

The decision to bring online reactors 3 and 4 at the Oi plant would make the prefecture the first since the 2011 nuclear disaster to have two active nuclear plants.

Fukui is also host to Kansai Electric’s Takahama plant, where two reactors have already resumed operation.

The Osaka-based utility, meanwhile, is just as reliant on nuclear power. Before the Fukushima disaster, nuclear power accounted for more than 40 percent of its power generation. But following the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 complex and subsequent nuclear power plant suspensions, fuel costs for alternative thermal power weighed on the utility’s bottom line.

The two reactors at Oi, offline in September 2013 for regular checkups, cleared the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s stricter post-Fukushima safety screenings.

Kansai Electric is planning to bring a total of seven reactors online — including the two Oi reactors given the go ahead this week and reactors 3 and 4 at the Takahama plant.

The three others — all of which are over 40 years old — have won approval for extended operation. They are reactors 1 and 2 at the Takahama plant and reactor 3 at the Mihama plant.

By boosting the ratio of nuclear in its power generation mix, Kansai Electric is looking to top tough competition with gas companies and rival power sources.

An industry insider believes that Kansai Electric may be aiming for a head start in the race by lowering electricity prices after bringing the reactors online.

But restarts remain a challenge, as more spent nuclear fuel only increases the need for storage facilities.

The Oi, Mihama and Takahama plants will all approach full capacity for spent fuel over a five-year period from the time of the restarts, according to an estimate by the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan.

In response to Nishikawa’s request for a storage facility, Shigeki Iwane, president of Kansai Electric, said the utility would present a plan in 2018.

But the details for such a facility are still unclear due to the difficulty of finding a location.

Nishikawa wants it outside his prefecture.