Japan's nuclear plants unlikely to restart operations this year
TOKYO, March 3 (Kyodo) — None of Japan's nuclear power plants that have been halted since the nuclear crisis triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami are likely to restart operations within the year as safety checks under new standards are not expected to be completed, a Kyodo News survey of utilities showed Sunday.
Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Oi plant in Fukui Prefecture, currently the only operating nuclear plant in the country, is also likely to be suspended in September for routine checks, regardless of the new safety standards that are planned to enter into force in July, according to the survey of the 10 power companies that have nuclear plants.
The financial burden on the utilities is also increasing as they enhance preventive measures following the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.
The companies expect that the cost of implementing the new standards will total at least 1.1 trillion yen, with Kansai Electric saying 285.5 billion yen is needed in the medium- to long-term.
Kyushu Electric Power Co. said it could restart two of its nuclear reactors in southwestern Japan in July if inspections by the Nuclear Regulation Authority are completed swiftly, but all the other utilities declined to provide specific dates.
Shikoku Electric Power Co. said it will aim to restart its reactors at the earliest possible time. The utility has applied for government approval for a household electricity rate hike based on the assumption that it will be able to restart operation of its Ikata nuclear plant in July.
The Ikata plant in Ehime Prefecture, western Japan, is viewed as closest to a restart as its reactors are different from the ones in Fukushima and it has quake-resilient facilities for emergency operations. But a senior plant official said it would be "impossible to restart within the year" unless the government's safety inspections are conducted more speedily.
Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka has said power plant inspections have previously required about six months to a year for completion at the earliest.
Although the authority is now aiming to speed up the process, broader safety measures under the new standards are expected to make it difficult for inspections to be completed by the end of the year.
Japan has experienced only around two months of complete nuclear plant suspension. All reactors were idled during the period between the halt of Hokkaido Electric Power Co.'s Tomari plant in May last year and the restart of the Oi plant in July.
The survey covering the 10 power companies was conducted in mid-February using e-mail and other methods.