Nuclear power in Japan post Fukushima

The Hindu

March 14, 2016

Nuclear power in Japan post Fukushima

K.S. PARTHASARATHY

Fukushima accident Reuters

 

REUTERS

As on December 2015, Japan has 43 poperable reactors with potential to restart.

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When the Fukushima accident occurred on March 11, 2011, Japan had 50+ nuclear power reactors which provided about 30 per cent of the country’s electricity. The World Nuclear Association (WNA) noted that this was expected to increase to at least 40 per cent by 2017. The devastating accident changed all that. Japan shut down all its reactors.

As on December 2015, Japan has 43 operable reactors with potential to restart; twenty-three of them have started the process to restart approvals. The first two restarted in August 2015 (Sandai 1) and October 2015(Sandai 2).

While Japan observes the fifth anniversary of the nuclear accident, there is slow and steady progress in examining whether some more of the nuclear power plants which are presently shut down comply with the new nuclear safety standards.

The Nuclear Regulatory Authority effectively approved on February 24, Takahama-1 and two other nuclear power plants — both of which have already been operated for more than 40 years — as compatible with the new regulatory standards.

The Japan Atomic Industrial Forum reports that these are the first such determinations for so-called aging reactors. They have to clear examinations and to get approvals for extensions of their operating lifetimes, for which the mandatory deadlines are in July.

On February 26, this year the Kansai Electric Power Co restarted its Takahama 4 (870MWe) nuclear power plant and Takahama 3 (870MWe) which they restarted on January 29 was returned to commercial service.

Industry and the ruling political class favour restart as they consider nuclear power as reliable, affordable and essential to ensure Japan’s energy security.

Japan now constructs four reactors and decommissions or is set to decommission 15. It has planned (9) and proposed (4) new reactors with a total capacity of 17,092 MWe

In June 2014, three major lobbies of hard-nosed business men — the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai) — sought an early restart of all nuclear reactors.

The stark reality is that over 90 per cent of Japan’s primary energy needs are now met by import.

In 2010, Japan’s per capita annual power consumption stood at 7870 kWh dropping to 7480 kWh/capita in 2013. Though all nuclear power plants were shut down, the Japanese continued to lead an energy intensive life!

On May 11, 2015, four years after the Fukushima nuclear accident, The Japan Times reported that a panel of nuclear experts largely approved a government report saying that atomic power remains the cheapest source of electricity despite the rising safety costs triggered by the 2011 Fukushima core meltdowns. Though the Government expects a glut in solar power, it wants to make nuclear power account for 20 to 22 per cent of Japan’s electricity supply by 2030.

The daily reported that the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), estimates that atomic power would cost at least ¥10.3 per kilowatt-hour in 2030.

The daily quoted METI as saying that additional safety measures required to run a nuclear reactor would cost an average of ¥60.1 billion. The report estimates that the cost of coal-fired power is ¥12.9 per kWh; liquefied natural gas ¥13.4 per kWh; Wind power ¥34.7; solar power up to ¥16.4, geothermal power ¥16.8, and hydropower up to ¥27.1 per kWh, all of them much higher than nuclear.

The cost of electricity estimated by the Institute of Energy Economics of Japan in 2011 included compensation of up to ¥10 trillion ($130 billion) for loss or damage from a nuclear accident (WNA, Dec 2015), ¥0.2 for additional post-Fukushima safety measures and ¥0.5 for dealing with future nuclear risks. The ¥0.5 for future nuclear risks is a minimum, increasing by ¥0.1 for each additional ¥1 trillion ($13 billion) of damage.

The public perception in Japan may be against nuclear power. But in December 2012, the pronuclear Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) got 294 out of 480 seats with the anti nuclear group trailing behind with 57 seats in the lower house of Diet. The LDP and its pronuclear partner secured 144 seats in 242 in the upper house in the July 2013 election.

The Japanese Government pledged to reduce reliance on nuclear power and promote renewable energy as much as possible, while standing by nuclear as a key power source, citing the importance of a stable electricity supply to economic growth. Because of its economic importance, decision makers will benignly look at nuclear power.

Keywords: Nuclear Regulatory Authority

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About ksparthasarathy

I am a former Secretary of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. I am a former Raja Ramanna Fellow in the Department of Atomic Energy. Free lance journalism is my hobby
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