Japan’s nuclear regulator decided Wednesday not to let power companies operate reactors if they fail to install sufficient counterterrorism measures by specified deadlines.
The decision by the Nuclear Regulation Authority came after three utilities that operate five nuclear plants in western and southwestern Japan requested that their deadlines be extended as they expect delays in completing counterterrorism steps required under stricter regulations introduced in 2013 following the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
Kyushu Electric Power Co., Kansai Electric Power Co. and Shikoku Electric Power Co. had sought to postpone their five-year deadlines by one to three years, citing reasons such as the need to carry out massive construction work.
The three companies told the NRA that the measures would not be on time at 10 of their reactors, according to documents published on the regulator’s website.
But the regulator has declined their requests for extensions.
The power plant operators are required to build facilities that can keep reactors cool via remote control and prevent the massive release of radioactive materials if the units are the target of a terrorist attack, such as from planes being flown into them.
Nuclear plant operators need to set up such facilities within five years of the nuclear safety watchdog approving detailed construction plans for the plants.
But several firms have warned they will not meet these criteria. The NRA said after a meeting earlier Wednesday it would no longer push back the deadline as it has done in the past.
“There is no need to extend the deadline, and nuclear facilities have to stop operations if the operators fail to meet it,” an NRA official said.
He added that several other reactors were also at risk of being shut down.
A reactor at the Sendai power plant in Kyushu could be the first to be suspended if Kyushu Electric Power fails to finish work by the deadline next March.
Following the No. 1 reactor at the Sendai plant, the No. 2 reactor at the complex is facing a deadline in May 2020. The deadline for the No. 3 reactor at the Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture operated by Kansai Electric is August 2020.
At an NRA meeting Wednesday, one of the commissioners said, “The construction work did not fall behind schedule because of natural disaster,” expressing the view that there is no need to extend the deadlines.
“We cannot overlook the operations of nuclear facilities when they become incompatible with meeting standards,” NRA Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa said.
Before the Fukushima disaster, Japan relied on nuclear power for roughly 30 percent of its electricity. But this declined to less than 2 percent after the crisis as reactors were suspended for emergency safety checks, with many unable to resume operations under the stricter rules. The ratio has since recovered somewhat, but it remains below 10 percent due to a protracted process of stringent safety checks by the regulator.
Shares of all three companies tumbled on the news. Kansai Electric ended down 7.8 percent, Kyushu Electric fell 5.3 percent and Shikoku Electric dropped 5 percent.
A draft by the industry ministry said nuclear should account for 20 to 22 percent of power supply in 2030 and renewables 22 to 24 percent, in line with the trade ministry’s goals set in 2015.
But many experts view the nuclear target as difficult to achieve in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima crisis, which led to a big shift in public opinion after it exposed industrial and regulatory failings and led to the shutdown of all the country’s reactors.