Six Years After Fukushima, Only Three Reactors Operating in Japan, More Poised to Restart

Six years after the Fukushima disaster prompted an electricity crisis in Japan and sent tremors throughout the world’s nuclear power sector, Japan is determined to continue its reliance on nuclear for nearly a fifth of its power needs in the long term.

Nuclear will make up 20% to 22% of Japan’s power mix by 2030, under a long-term plan issued in 2015, Hirohide Hirai, the director general of Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), told attendees at CERAweek by IHS Markit, which is taking place in Houston this week.

On March 11, 2011, nearly a day after the 3-minute, 9.0-magnitude Great Tohoku Earthquake struck northeastern Japan—and unleashed a tsunami that killed 20,000 people—the world learned that Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s (TEPCO’s) Fukushima Daiichi and Daini nuclear plants were in peril after rising waters inundated and disabled offsite power supplies.

All of Japan’s nuclear power plants were shut down for safety checks after the disaster. Six years later, only three of 45 operable reactors have come online: Kyushu Electric’s Sendai 1 and 2 (restarted in 2015), and Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata 3 (restarted in August 2016). Kansai Electric’s Takahama 3 and 4 were restarted but have been idled after a March 2016 court injunction lodged by anti-nuclear activists.

On Wednesday, Hirai reiterated that Japan’s reactors would be restarted only after strict checks by its Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA). “So, the natural outcome is very slow to recover,” he said.

This year, the country will “hopefully” see the restart of Takahama 3 and 4, he said. The NRA cleared another two reactors in Genkai, Saga Prefecture, to restart in January, and on March 7, the town’s mayor notified Kyushu Electric Power Co. of his decision to allow the reactors to restart. In February, meanwhile, Ohi 3 and Ohi 4, reactors in Fukui Prefecture owned and operated by Kansai Electric Power Co. also got the NRA’s clearance to restart.

“Maybe by next year, those restarts will begin to reduce emissions and the need for natural gas,” Hirai said.

In the aftermath of the disaster, Japan increasingly relied on coal and natural gas (which is totally imported liquefied natural gas) to fuel its power plants. In 2016, however, the country also saw a notable surge in renewable power capacity.

Japan moved to liberalize its retail electricity market in April 2016, enabling consumers to choose their power suppliers. The change resulted in more than 300 new entrants into the market that had previously been dominated by 10 large power companies.


Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)

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