Japan is bringing nuclear units closed after Fukushima accident back online
Energize Weekly, December 5, 2018
Japan is slowly bringing online nuclear power units, which were shut down in the wake of the Fukushima accident in 2011. In 2018, five units were restarted, raising the total operating units to nine.
In 2013, Japan suspended its nuclear fleet—20 nuclear plants with 54 units—for mandatory safety checks and upgrades after Fukushima.
In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami rocked the Fukushima Daiichi plant causing a loss of power, which in turn led to a loss of cooling capacity. The radioactive cores of three units melted within the first three days. The plant operator, TEPCO, allocated $2.5 billion to clean up the plant. The Japanese government put $15 billion toward decontaminating the region.
Twenty units have been permanently retired after the accident, leaving 34 operable reactors with nine of those in service and six having initial approval to restart. Another 12 are under review by Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA).
After Fukushima as each Japanese nuclear reactor was shut for maintenance and refueling, it was not placed back in service. “Between September 2013 and August 2015, Japan’s entire reactor fleet was suspended from operation, leaving the country with no nuclear generation,” according to a U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) assessment.
The Sendai Units 1 and 2, in Japan’s Kagoshima Prefecture, were the first reactors to be restarted in August and October 2015, respectively.
Restarting the plants required the approval of the NRA—which has issued more stringent regulations to deal with tsunamis, earthquakes, the loss of power and emergency preparedness— and the central government. Local governments also have to sign off on the restarts. Permission to go back online may come with required safety upgrades from the NRA.
The last unit to win approval to restart was the Shikoku Power Co.’s 890 megawatt Ikata-3 reactor in the Ehime Prefecture. It went back into operation in October.
To replace the nuclear generation, Japan shifted to imported liquefied natural gas (LNG), oil and coal. This boosted Japan to the world’s largest importer of LNG and third largest importer of coal after India and China.
In 2017, natural gas powered 37 percent of Japan’s electricity generation, and coal provided 33 percent. Japanese utilities spent about $30 billion annually for fossil fuels in the three years after the Fukushima accident.
Japan’s long-term energy policy calls for nuclear reactors to provide 20 percent to 22 percent of the country’s electricity by 2030, which would require 25 to 30 reactors to be in operation, according to the EIA.