National

Another aging nuclear reactor in western Japan to be scrapped

Kyodo

Shikoku Electric Power Co. decided Tuesday to scrap the aging reactor 2 at its Ikata plant in Ehime Prefecture because the required safety investments would make it too expensive to keep in service.

The reactor will be the ninth that nuclear plant operators across Japan have decided to scrap following the 2011 nuclear crisis, excluding those at the disaster-hit Fukushima No .1 complex.

Japan currently has around 40 commercial reactors.

“To resume operations, we would need to conduct major safety improvements, which would require considerable time and money,” Shikoku Electric President Hayato Saeki said when he met Tuesday with Ehime Gov. Tokihiro Nakamura to explain the decision.

Nakamura replied that “we hope the utility will proceed with decommissioning work with safety as the top priority.”

Following the introduction of new safety requirements in the wake of the Fukushima crisis, nuclear plant operators nationwide have to decide whether to scrap aging reactors or spend huge sums on upgrading them.

The upgrades are necessary to secure government permission to operate the reactors for another 20 years beyond the current 40-year operational limit.

The Ikata complex, the only nuclear plant owned by Shikoku Electric, had three reactors in operation before Fukushima. The company has already decided to scrap the No. 1 unit, with decommissioning work starting last September.

For reactor 2, which will reach 40 years of operation in 2022, the utility believes at least ¥100 billion would be needed to make the required improvements to win a 20-year operating extension, and turning a profit after that investment would be unlikely due to its relatively small electricity output of 566,000 kilowatts and declining electricity demand in the region.

Shikoku Electric’s reluctance to keep its aging reactors in service comes despite the Abe administration’s efforts to reboot reactors deemed safe by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, seeing nuclear power as an “important base-load power source.”

“Utilities are not deciding to decommission their reactors just because of economic efficiency,” Hiroshige Seko, minister of economy, trade and industry, told a news conference. “They should decide by comprehensively taking into consideration (factors) such as local characteristics as well as economic efficiency.”

Ikata’s reactor 2 entered commercial operation in 1982, about five years after the plant’s first unit began operating.

The No. 3 reactor passed the post-Fukushima screening process and resumed operation in August 2016, but a court injunction halting its operation was granted last December while it was offline for regular maintenance.

Reactor 3 can’t be restarted until the end of September based on the order by the Hiroshima High Court, which cited potential volcanic eruptions at Mount Aso in Kumamoto Prefecture about 130 km from the Ikata plant.