Japan gives passing grade to 10th nuclear reactor
Two Kyushu Power units latest to clear safety checks
TOKYO -- Japan's nuclear watchdog said two reactors in southwestern Japan passed safety screenings Wednesday, marking a total of 10 units cleared for restart since all nuclear plants were ordered shut down following the March 2011 meltdown at Fukushima.
The No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Genkai plant, overseen by Kyushu Electric Power in Saga Prefecture, are slated to resume operations by this summer at the earliest. Since tougher rules were put in place in 2013, applications for safety inspections covering 26 reactors at 16 plants have been filed.
All 10 units that passed at the five plants are pressurized water reactors, which are common in western Japan. The devastated facilities at Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings' Fukushima Daiichi plant were boiling water reactors. Units sharing that design have yet to pass safety screenings. Tepco's plans to restart the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture have hit the skids, and the heavy decommissioning and compensation costs will weigh down on the utility's earnings.
Even if a reactor wins the Nuclear Regulation Authority's seal of approval, that is no guarantee that it will go back online. A restart also requires the consent of the local population. Saga Gov. Yoshinori Yamaguchi has indicated that he will approve the resumption of the Genkai reactors if the public approves. Yamaguchi spoke on the phone Wednesday with Hiroshige Seko, the minister of economy, trade and industry, seeking assurances from the state that his citizens will be protected.
The town of Genkai, home of the reactors, plans to start the approval process as soon as February. The cities of Imari and Iki, located within 30km of Genkai, are opposed to the restart.
Operations may be blocked by a court order as well. Kansai Electric Power restarted the Takahama No. 3 and No. 4 reactors last year, only to be halted since March by an injunction. Kyushu Electric's Genkai station is also facing court action.
In addition, Genkai's spent fuel pool storage space is projected to be completely filled in about five years. Kyushu Electric's plans to increase capacity by transferring spent fuel elsewhere may be rejected by the NRA.