TOKYO -- The first Japanese nuclear power plant to be restarted after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi meltdown risks being shut down again after the country's nuclear watchdog decided Wednesday against extending deadlines for required anti-terrorism measures.
Kyushu Electric Power must finish building emergency facilities mandated by the Nuclear Regulation Authority for the No. 1 reactor at its Sendai plant by March 2020, and for the No. 2 reactor by the following May.
"We'll do everything we can, but the work won't be done in time," a Kyushu Electric executive said. "If the NRA won't let the plant continue operating under the current conditions, then we'll have no choice but to shut it down."
A suspension would force the utility to make up the difference using fossil-fuel power plants, driving up fuel costs. Kyushu Electric's earnings would be squeezed by an estimated 8 billion yen ($71.5 million) per month if both Sendai reactors are shut down.
NRA Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa showed little sympathy regarding the delays in a news conference Wednesday. "The work schedules were too optimistic, and it looks like [the utilities] were too optimistic about the response from regulators," he said.
As part of the rules implemented in 2011 to improve safety after the Fukushima disaster, companies are required to set up off-site facilities with control rooms and generators to serve as backup centers and prevent meltdowns in the event of a terrorist attack.
The NRA is taking a hard line on this requirement, threatening to shut down reactors that fail to comply. It originally set a single deadline of July 2018 for every facility. But in November 2015, it instead decided to give each reactor five years to complete construction of emergency facilities from when detailed architectural plans for the reactor itself are approved.
Offering another extension could open the regulator up to accusations that it is too soft on the utilities.
The NRA is also mindful of lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi incident itself. The regulator's predecessor agency was accused of being too cozy with the utilities it was meant to oversee -- due partly to bureaucrats taking jobs in the private sector after they retire -- and was ultimately dismantled.
Fuketa asserted Wednesday that regulatory capture is not an issue under the NRA, stressing that it bases its rules and decisions on "technical knowledge." The agency worries that it too could lose the public's trust if it goes easy on the power companies.