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Politics

Kansai Electric set for unprecedented nuclear decommissioning

Two Oi units will be largest operable reactors scrapped in Japan so far

Reactor Nos. 1, right, and 2 at Kansai Electric's Oi nuclear power plant (Photo by Kento Awashima)

TOKYO -- Japanese utility Kansai Electric Power on Friday formally decided not to seek approval to extend the life of two large, aging nuclear reactors, as the high cost of ensuring their safety would likely make them unprofitable.

At a special board meeting, executives opted to decommission reactor Nos. 1 and 2 at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, in the central part of the country. The two units, both of which are nearly 40 years old, are currently down for routine maintenance.

Each Oi reactor has a generation capacity of 1.18 million kilowatts, making them the largest operable units to be scrapped in the country. Since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami triggered meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings' Fukushima Daiichi plant, Japan has only decided to close smaller reactors with output capacities ranging from 300,000kW and 500,000kW. 

Kansai Electric President Shigeki Iwane visited Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa on Friday to explain the decision. The company plans to create a road map for the decommissioning project in 2018 or thereafter, for submission to the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

The whole process will take about 30 years.

Now or never

After the Fukushima disaster, Japan set an age limit for nuclear reactors at 40 years. With special approval from regulators, the life span can be extended to 60 years.

Oi's No. 1 reactor will turn 40 in March 2019, with the No. 2 reactor following that December. To continue using the first unit, the utility would have to apply between next Wednesday and March 27. But prior to that, it must conduct safety inspections that can take months. The company was thus under pressure to make a decision now.

It costs around 100 billion yen ($882 million) to restart an idle nuclear reactor under Japan's revised regulations. Aging ones entail additional expenses; old cables, for example, must be replaced with less flammable ones.

The two Oi reactors' unique structures could lead to additional costs as well. They have smaller containment vessels than ordinary reactors.

Kansai Electric used to operate 11 reactors but has already decided to close Nos. 1 and 2 at its Mihama nuclear station, also in Fukui. The latest decision will bring its number of usable reactors to seven.

All told, Japan has put six reactors on the decommissioning path since the 2011 catastrophe, excluding the crippled ones at Fukushima Daiichi. The Oi units are the first with capacities over 1 million kW to wind up on the chopping block, other than Fukushima Daiichi unit No. 6.

(Nikkei)

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