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Kyushu Electric Power to scrap No. 2 reactor at Genkai nuclear plant

The No. 2 reactor at Kyushu Electric Power Co.'s Genkai nuclear plant in Saga Prefecture is pictured in June 2011. (Kyodo)

FUKUOKA (Kyodo) -- Kyushu Electric Power Co. said Wednesday it has decided to scrap its aging No. 2 reactor at Genkai nuclear plant in the southwestern Japan prefecture of Saga.

The utility abandoned a plan to restart the unit with an output of 559 megawatts in the face of the huge costs involved in enhancing the safety of the reactor already near the end of its 40-year operating life.

It also took into account the fact that it is unable to secure land for building a counterterrorism facility, which is required under the country's new nuclear safety rules.

The utility's decision on the unit has been in focus as it needed to apply for an extension of operation by March 2020, a year before the unit reaches its operating limit.

The reactor, which started operating in March 1981, has been idled since undergoing a routine checkup shortly before the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster that triggered the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The Genkai plant consists of four units, and the utility already decided in 2015 to scrap its aging No. 1 unit, which had the same output capacity as the No. 2 reactor. Decommissioning work at the No. 1 reactor started in July 2017 and is expected to continue through fiscal 2043.

Kyushu Electric restarted the newer Nos. 3 and 4 reactors in 2018, each with an output of 1,180 megawatts, after winning approval under the stricter safety rules introduced in the wake of the core meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

Aside from the reactors at the Fukushima plant, decommissioning of 10 reactors at seven plants in Japan has already been decided after the Nuclear Regulation Authority introduced the new rules. Genkai's No. 2 unit will be the 11th such reactor.

The Genkai power plant has been plagued by problems. In May last year, pumps installed to control the circulation of cooling water at the No. 4 unit suffered malfunctions, following a steam leak from a pipe at the No. 3 reactor just a week after it was reactivated in March.

Some local residents have sought to stop the operation of the Nos. 3 and 4 units with a temporary injunction, doubting safety measures taken there and citing the risk of volcanic eruptions in the region. The case is pending at the Fukuoka High Court.

Last month, Kyushu Electric reported its group net profit dropped to 26.69 billion yen ($241 million) in the April-December period, down 63.8 percent from the year before, as costs for a regular checkup at another nuclear plant weighed on its balance sheet.

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