TOKYO -- Nine nuclear reactors at five plants in Japan are expected to start going offline in succession from March 2020 because their operators cannot meet deadlines for implementing counterterrorism measures set by Japan's nuclear regulator.
The five plants are operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co., Shikoku Electric Power Co., and Kansai Electric Power Co. They stand one to three years behind their respective deadlines for implementing counterterrorism measures set under a new policy of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA). The situation is likely to disrupt the power companies' plans to win customers by lowering their fees through the operation of nuclear reactors.
"If things continue like this, we'll have to stop operating the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant in about one year. From a management perspective it's tough," one Kyushu Electric official lamented.
According to the three companies, when one plant stops operating, fuel costs for operating thermal power plants to make up for the electricity supply increase by between 3.5 billion yen and 6.5 billion yen a month. Kansai Electric and Kyushu Electric, which have multiple reactors in operation, could see their operating costs balloon by around 100 billion yen a year as a result.
Amid intense competition with Osaka Gas and other new electricity retailers, it is not viable for the power companies to ask customers to pay more for electricity.
Shikoku Electric in western Japan has already decided to decommission the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at its Ikata Nuclear Power Plant in Ehime Prefecture, and operation of the plant's No. 3 reactor, the sole remaining one, was viewed as a major premise for establishing stable financial management.
In light of the situation, the power companies' sale of electricity to other firms is set to decrease, which is certain to hit power companies in the pocket -- highlighting the risks of relying on nuclear power.
The nuclear regulator's move is also likely to significantly affect Japan Atomic Power Co.'s plans to restart its Tokai No. 2 Power Station in Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo. In November last year, the power plant passed screening by the NRA to enable its reactivation, and received permission to keep operating for another 20 years. However, it has not even compiled an estimate for the cost of building a facility required under the counterterrorism guidelines.
Under NRA rules, nuclear plant operators are required to build facilities at least 100 meters away from reactor buildings that are able to remotely prevent meltdowns if the units come under terrorist attacks such as planes being flown into them. The facilities must be built within five years of the NRA approving plant construction plans.
A Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry official observed, "This could be described as a birth pang in the process of boosting safety, but it's an unfavorable wind in the short term." Meanwhile, Tadashi Narabayashi, a specially appointed professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology, commented, "Power companies were hoping that things would go easy for them, but the NRA should have made it clear from the outset that they were not going to allow any extensions beyond the 5-year limit. The responsibility for the confusion lies on both sides."
(Japanese original by Takayuki Hakamada, Business News Department)