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Planned decommissioning of KEPCO reactors puts pressure on gov't energy goals

(Mainichi)
The No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO)'s Oi Nuclear Power Plant are seen in Oi, Fukui Prefecture, from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter in November 2016. (Mainichi)

Following Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO)'s decision to work toward decommissioning the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at its Oi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture, it is now more likely that other aging nuclear plants across Japan will also be decommissioned, regardless of size.

As a result, the government will now be watched closely regarding its next move. Specifically, the key issue will be whether it will approve the construction of new or replacement nuclear power plants so as to achieve its goal of supplying 20 to 22 percent of the nation's electric power from nuclear power plants by fiscal 2030.

The aim of providing 20 to 22 percent of electric power in this way falls under the government's "Basic Energy Plan." In order to provide 20 percent of power from nuclear energy sources, it would be necessary to restart about 30 nuclear reactors. However, of the existing 45 reactors across the country, only 14 reactors at seven plants have met the safety standards set down by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), and only five of these reactors have been restarted.

With regard to 19 nuclear reactors including those at Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings, Inc.'s Fukushima No. 2 Power Plant, no applications to restart operations have been made.

As a result of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, regulatory standards regarding nuclear power plants have been made stricter, and therefore safety measure costs have increased considerably. Consequently, electric power companies are hesitant about applying to restart reactors as they are trying to determine the costs involved in restarting aging power plants.

Commenting on the plan to decommission the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at the Oi Nuclear Power Plant, a senior official at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said, "The decommissioning of aging nuclear plants is within our range of expectation."

However, if there are additional cases of plants that have exceeded the 40-year operation limit being decommissioned instead of extended, it will be difficult for the government to achieve its power supply framework target set out for fiscal 2030.

Currently, the economy ministry is working on amendments to its basic energy plan. However, if we assume that the decommissioning of dilapidated plants will be accelerated, then the government's response will be undoubtedly watched carefully.

Will the government lower its nuclear power targets for fiscal 2030, or will it approve the construction of new and replacement power plants instead?

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