Japan's Nuclear Power Sector Awakens After Long Sleep
Amid protests by anti-nuclear groups, Japan restarted the first of its shuttered nuclear reactors today, four years after the Fukushima disaster closed all of that country’s nuclear plants. There were no problems during the restart (BBC; NEI). Owned and operated by Kyushu Electric Power Company, the Sendai nuclear reactors were the first approved for restart under the upgraded nuclear standards put in place by Japan’s new Nuclear Regulation Authority. After spending about $100 million, Sendai nuclear reactors 1 and 2 have both cleared Japan’s NRA safety examinations and met new post-Fukushima regulatory standards. Unit 1 restarted first this morning. Unit 2 will follow in two months. Both are occurring under the biggest microscope in history (Japan Times). All of Japan’s 48 commercial reactor units were shut down for safety checks and upgrades following the 2011 accident, and 25 plants have applied to be restarted under the new safety standards.The reactors at Sendai are M-type pressurized water reactors built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries . They are about 15 years younger than TEPCO’s Fukushima boiling water reactors. Sendai passed its final weeklong applied safety inspection last week. The fuel was already loaded. Technical operational plans and procedures were approved by the NRA over the last year. Sendai Unit 1 is expected to generate power by the end of this week and be reconnected to the grid by the end of the month. According to Shunichi Tanaka, NRA Chairman, “We will make completely sure that the reactor is operating as it should…a disaster like that at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi will not occur” (Japan Times)(Hiroshima Syndrome). Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority recently approved the restart of Shikoku Electric Power Company’s Ikata 3 reactor, the fifth to receive approval to restart. Kansai Electric Power Company’s Takahama 3 just submitted its 45,000-page revised engineering work document to the NRA, a major step in the restart path. Twenty reactors are in various stages of restart and Japan’s government plans to restart about a fifth of their previous nuclear generation by 2030. But I think that number will be much higher, and much faster, if these first restarts go well. Japan has been importing huge amounts of oil, coal and natural gas to replace the lost nuclear power, at great expense and great harm to human health and the environment. Before 2011, nuclear power generated a third of the county’s electricity, and fossil fuel about 60%. The Sendai plant alone generated over 12 billion kWhs of electricity each year. Japan had planned to increase its share of generation from nuclear to over 40% because the country has almost no domestic energy resources. Geologically, Japan is a young island arc system formed by the Pacific Plate diving underneath the Eurasian Plate. Thus, they have no coal, no oil and no gas. And their biomass resources need to go mainly towards food. After shutting their nuclear fleet, Japan became the world’s largest importer of liquefied natural gas, the second largest importer of coal behind China, and the third largest oil consumer and importer in the world behind the United States and China. Japan has to import almost 90% of its energy and, like South Korea, its economic stability requires significant amounts of nuclear power (EIA). If all goes well with the Sendai restart, and more restarts follow, Japan can begin ratcheting down its fossil fuel imports, ratcheting up its economy, and getting back to being the economic powerhouse we all remember.