Four electric power companies are expected to apply to the Nuclear Regulation Authority in July for screening to restart eight idle reactors, sources said May 29.
The four utilities are Hokkaido Electric Power Co., Kansai Electric Power Co., Shikoku Electric Power Co. and Kyushu Electric Power Co.
The four will apply at the earliest possible opportunity after the NRA stipulates new regulation standards on nuclear power generation by July 18.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. is also making preparations to apply as soon as possible.
Based on the new regulation standards, the NRA will check safety measures and other items at nuclear power plants, and subsequently determine whether it will allow the restarts.
The eight reactors involved in the applications are the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 reactors at Hokkaido Electric Power’s Tomari nuclear power plant; the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at Kansai Electric’s Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture; the No. 3 reactor at Shikoku Electric’s Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture; and the Nos. 1 and 2 reactors at Kyushu Electric’s Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture.
They are all pressurized water reactors. The stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, operated by TEPCO, used boiling water reactors.
Because the containment vessels of pressurized water reactors are large, the new regulation standards are expected to grant those reactors a moratorium on the installment of filter-attached vent equipment, which prevents radioactive materials from leaking to the outside. That will allow the four electric power companies to apply for restarts immediately after the new regulation standards are stipulated.
The Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 led to the shutdown of all the nation’s reactors, forcing operators to rely on thermal power generation.
So if a conventional nuclear reactor with an output capacity of about 1 gigawatt is restarted, its operator can reduce monthly thermal power fuel costs by 8 billion yen to 20 billion yen ($80 million to $200 million).
The electric power companies have cited huge fuel costs as a reason for seeking restarts as early as possible.
“Safety measures (to meet the new regulation standards) will be completed (at the Ikata No. 3 reactor) by the end of June,” said Akira Chiba, president of Shikoku Electric. “If the new standards are enforced, we will make the application (for the restart of the reactor) as soon as possible.”
TEPCO plans to complete safety measures at some of the seven reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture this summer and apply for restarts.
But Niigata’s governor, Hirohiko Izumida, has said that he will not discuss the restart of the reactors until the cause of the accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant and recurrence prevention measures are made clear.
The NRA said applying early for restarts will not necessarily expedite the process because the number of NRA staff members who can be engaged in screening for restarts is limited: They can check only three reactors simultaneously.
“Screening for each reactor is expected to require at least six months,” said NRA chairman Shunichi Tanaka.
Even if a reactor passes NRA screening, consent for the restart is required from local governments that are hosting the nuclear power plant.
As for Tohoku Electric Power Co., Chubu Electric Power Co., Hokuriku Electric Power Co., Chugoku Electric Power Co. and the Japan Atomic Power Co., they will face difficulties making applications for restarts in the near future.
This is because it will take time for them to install safety measures, such as vent equipment and the construction of sea walls. The NRA is also currently evaluating faults running below the compounds of the utilities’ nuclear power plants to determine if they are active.
Currently, there are 50 nuclear reactors in Japan. Of them, only the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at Kansai Electric’s Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture are in operation.
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