Market News

 December 18, 2014
Fukui nuclear reactors move big step toward restarts

 TAKAHAMA, Fukui Prefecture--Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Takahama plant here became the second nuclear power facility to receive the virtual go-ahead to resume operations under tougher safety requirements introduced after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority on Dec. 17 said it concluded that the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Takahama nuclear plant have met the safety standards required to prepare for natural disasters and severe accidents.

The NRA's decision will be finalized after it receives public opinions on the issue for 30 days starting Dec. 18.

However, Kansai Electric must first gain the consent of local officials and residents to restart the reactors.

In addition, the NRA still needs to check the detailed construction plans and blueprints for the Takahama plant, as well as safety guidelines on how Kansai Electric will operate the reactors and respond to an accident.

An additional one to two months will also be necessary for the NRA to conduct on-site inspections.

If no problems arise, Kansai Electric will likely be able to resume operations at the plant next spring at the earliest.

"There still remains screenings of the construction plans and safety rules to restart the reactors, so we will continue to sincerely respond to the NRA's examination," Kansai Electric President Makoto Yagi said at a news conference on Dec. 17.

Kansai Electric is also proceeding with a special safety inspection to extend the operating lives of the aging No. 1 and No. 2 reactors of the Takahama plant for two decades beyond the normal expiry date of 40 years.

Under the stricter safety standards, utilities must have quake-resistant buildings for emergency operations in the event of damage caused by a natural disaster.

Kansai Electric listed the buildings for the two aging reactors as emergency operation centers, but it is currently constructing separate buildings for emergency purposes at the Takahama plant site.

The NRA is requiring the company to keep those two reactors shut down for the time being. The nuclear watchdog could rescreen the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors if Kansai Electric hopes to restart the aging reactors at an early date.

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is moving toward restarting now-idled reactors that are deemed safe by the NRA. Currently, no reactors are operating in Japan.

The first nuclear plant expected to resume operations is Kyushu Electric Power Co.'s Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture. The No. 1 and No. 2 reactors there passed the NRA's safety screenings in line with the stricter regulations.

The results of the NRA's examination of the Sendai plant reactors were released in July.

The nuclear watchdog referred to its examination of the Sendai plant to work out its 433-page draft report that virtually allows Kansai Electric to resume operations at the Takahama plant.

Kansai Electric submitted its application to restart the Takahama No. 3 and No. 4 reactors when the new safety regulations took effect in July 2013.

It plans to use the reactors for plutonium-thermal power generation, in which mixed-oxide fuel consisting of plutonium and uranium is used.

The Takahama plant is located just 3.5 meters above sea level, much lower compared with the Sendai plant. Kansai Electric was required to raise the height of surrounding levees to block tsunami.

Kansai Electric initially projected a maximum tsunami height at the Takahama plant of 2.6 meters. It revised the estimate to 6.2 meters after the NRA ordered the company to recheck its calculations.

The utility was also advised to increase its projected earthquake scale from 550 gals to 700 gals and enhance the quake-resistance of plant equipment. A gal is a unit of acceleration that measures the extent of an earthquake's seismic waves.

The next step for Kansai Electric is to win the approval of Fukui Prefecture and Takahama town to restart the reactors.

"We will work to restart operations as early as possible by making efforts to obtain an agreement from people living in the surrounding areas," Yagi said.

Areas of Kyoto and Shiga prefectures located within a 30-kilometer radius of the Takahama plant have maintained a cautious stance toward resuming reactor operations there.

Areas within 30 km of the plant are designated as the Urgent Protective Action Planning Zone. Local administrations in the zone could demand that Kansai Electric keep the reactors offline until it also gains their approval, pointing to the possible dangers to their residents.