Kyushu Electric Power Co. on Nov. 1 restarted the No. 4 reactor at its Genkai nuclear power plant in Saga Prefecture, the first resumption of reactor operations in Japan since the March 11 earthquake.
The reactor, which was automatically shut down on Oct. 4 due to equipment trouble caused by human error, is expected to reach full capacity on Nov. 4, company officials said.
On Nov. 1, Yukio Edano, the minister of economy, trade and industry, indicated the central government would accept Kyushu Electric Power's plan.
"Whether to restart the operations or not is a matter the utility must decide after talking with local governments or the people," he said in a news conference after a Cabinet meeting.
Genkai Mayor Hideo Kishimoto said Nov. 1, "We obtained a confirmation of safety from the government on the No. 4 reactor."
Saga Governor Yasushi Furukawa said, "If the government, which is responsible for regulations (on reactor operations), concluded that the No. 4 reactor is safe, we will accept the conclusion as we did before."
Anti-nuclear sentiment has spread since the accident started at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, including rallies in Genkai. In addition, Kyushu Electric Power was harshly criticized for trying to manipulate public opinion by instructing employees to send pro-nuclear energy e-mails to a TV program.
Kyushu Electric Power concluded that the words of the mayor and the governor showed it has obtained the understanding of the people to resume operations--even though a company official said it wasn't needed.
"In a sense, the consent of local governments or the people is unnecessary," Naoyuki Toyoshima, a senior official of the utility, said at a news conference that started at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 1.
The government has required electric power companies to conduct stress tests on their reactors before they can be restarted. However, the reactors subject to the condition are those whose operations were suspended for regular inspections.
The No. 4 reactor at the Genkai plant--which was shut down after abnormalities were detected in a condenser when a worker was using the wrong operating manual--was not subject to the condition.
"It is different than reactors whose operations have been suspended due to regular inspections," Toyoshima said. "It is the same as reactors that are in operation. There is no reason for maintaining the suspension of operations."
The central government assessed Kyushu Electric Power's report on the No. 4 reactor incident as "largely appropriate." The company then announced its resumption plan and conveyed its intentions to the local governments.
The resumption of the No. 4 reactor will also help Kyushu Electric Power save money.
The utility currently has six reactors, including two at the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture. Operations at five of them have been suspended since Oct. 4.
To cover the electricity shortage, Kyushu Electric Power has increased thermal power generation, which has forced the company to spend around 1 billion yen (about $13 million) a day on fuel for the thermal power plants.
If the No. 4 reactor runs as scheduled for about a month and a half until mid-December, when its operations will be suspended for regular inspections, the utility can save 13.5 billion yen to 18 billion yen in fuel costs, equivalent to about 300,000 kiloliters of oil.
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