Yomuri Shimbun reports that the Japanese government aims to restart about 10 of the nation’s idle nuclear reactors by this summer, when electricity demand is expected to increase.
According to sources, the government is considering resuming its work on compiling the nation’s new basic energy plan, with the aim of announcing it by the end of this fiscal year ending in March.
It hopes about 10 nuclear power reactors will resume their operations under the new plan.
The cost to Japan’s economy and the utilities’ finances is heavy. Japan imported a record 87.5 million tonnes of LNG last year, at a cost of $69 billion, according to customs-cleared import data. Imports of thermal coal were also at record levels.
Hundreds of technicians and engineers are camped out in Tokyo hotels trying to revive Japan’s nuclear industry.
“Only the framework of the safety criteria was decided, not the details, so the dialogue between the NRA and power companies to work out the specifics is taking time,” said Seiichi Nakata, Project Leader, Department of Policy, Communication and International Affairs at the Japan Atomic Industry Forum.
And once the checks are done, reactors must undergo planned inspections, which took as long as two months under the previous regime, as well as get the go-ahead from local authorities before they can be turned back on. The plants are being treated as if they have just been built and are seeking certification to start operating for the first time.
Interviews with utility and nuclear industry staff, regulators and government officials reveal a climate of uncertainty, frustration and long hours.
A taskforce of some 90 NRA inspectors dispatch orders and requests to hundreds of staff from regional utilities seconded to the capital and camped out for months in business hotels near the regulator’s headquarters. As many as 2,800 staff at Mitsubishi Heavy are involved in dealing with utilities’ requests on specifications and other data, the company said.
Kyushu Electric Power Co, Hokkaido Electric Power Co, Kansai Electric Power Co and Shikoku Electric Power Co say they have each stationed scores of employees in Tokyo to respond to queries from the regulator.
A typical working day for them lasts from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. They stay in cheap business hotels within a quick commute of the NRA headquarters in a leafy district of central Tokyo. One of those, the Hotel Unizo in Shimbashi, a bustling district of bars and restaurants, charges 11,000 yen ($110) a night. To keep costs in check, some companies offer staff a daily allowance of as little as 1,500 yen for meals, and no laundry, said one person close to the safety review process.
Any downtime not spent returning home to visit families is used to prepare for more meetings with the regulator.
Politics looking more positive
The government’s work on the new plan was suspended to avoid negatively influencing the candidate supported by the ruling bloc during the Tokyo gubernatorial race that ended Sunday.
According to a draft of the plan, nuclear power generation is defined as an “important basic source of electricity that is part of the nation’s infrastructure.”
The government aims to resume operations of nuclear power plants under the plan, after their safety is confirmed by the ongoing screenings of the Nuclear Regulation Authority.
To make up for the shortfall of electricity supply, domestic power firms have been taking measures to increase the output capacity of their thermal power plants. However, this led to an increase in fuel imports, resulting in a rise in electric rates by about 20 percent, from levels before the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. The higher rates had the effect of increasing the financial burden on corporate businesses and household economies.
Power companies have applied to the NRA for safety reviews to resume operations of 16 reactors at nine plants. The safety screenings are said to be smoothly proceeding for the No. 3 reactor at Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata plant in Ehime Prefecture; the Nos 1 and 2 reactors at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture; and the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors of Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Genkai plant in Saga Prefecture. The safety reviews are expected to be completed by April at the earliest.
To resume nuclear plant operations, however, the consent of respective local governments is needed.
Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara is considering assuring the local governments of aid for their disaster prevention measures.
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