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Energy

Japan shuts nuclear reactor over anti-terrorism shortfalls

Over half of current generation capacity faces closure in 2020

The control room of No. 3 reactor at Kyushu Electric's Genkai Nuclear Power Plant. Regulations require that utilities have the ability to remotely control operations at the sites in case of terrorist activity. 

TOKYO -- Japan's first nuclear reactor to restart after the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown was idled on Monday after failing to meet anti-terrorism requirements, with three more facing possible closure this year.

Nuclear power has struggled to regain momentum in Japan following the 2011 disaster. Further shutdowns would deal a blow both to the government's energy mix target as well as to the bottom lines of utilities.

Kyushu Electric Power missed the Tuesday deadline to build an emergency facility for the No. 1 reactor at its Sendai power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, which would remotely control the reactor in case of a terrorist attack. Utilities were given five years to build this capability under new safety rules created in response to the Fukushima meltdown.

Kyushu Electric, which serves southwestern Japan, aims to complete the remote operation unit and bring the reactor back online in late December. But it will first require approval from the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

One more Kyushu Electric reactor and two operated by Kansai Electric Power, which serves the area that includes Osaka and Kyoto, also face deadlines by the end of the year, but construction is delayed. Combined with another reactor that has been halted by the Hiroshima high court, up to five of Japan's nine restarted reactors could be knocked off the grid. Two more reactors need to have emergency units set up in 2022.

For each halted reactor, utilities must spend hundreds of millions of dollars on fossil fuels to make up for lost power. This in turn could mean higher electricity rates for consumers.

The Japanese government aims to boost nuclear power to between 20% and 22% of the country's energy mix by fiscal 2030, curbing its dependence on fossil fuels. This would require about 30 operational reactors.

But the figure is now expected to fall to about 4% in fiscal 2020 with the closures, unless more reactors come back online from their Fukushima-induced hiatus, according to Japan's Institute of Energy Economics.

"It will be difficult to meet the government's target unless something changes," said Tomoko Murakami, senior economist at the Institute of Energy Economics.

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