Insights from BCC Research

Japan Back Online with Nuclear Power After Two Years

Posted by Clayton Luz on Aug 28, 2015 5:13:00 AM

Nearly two years after Japan shut down its nuclear power plants, the country brought its first reactor back online this month.

Sendai 1, a pressurized water reactor owned and operated by the Kyushu Electric Power Company, was restarted on Aug. 11. Located on Kyushu Island, Japan’s third largest island, the reactor is expected to reach full capacity sometime in September after a final regulatory inspection, according to Kyushu Electric.

SENDAI 1 TO LESSEN POST-2011 DEPENDENCE ON IMPORTED FOSSIL FUELS AFTER FUKUSHIMA ACCIDENT

After its Fukushima Daiichi plant was disabled by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011, Japan suspended operations at its 44 operable reactors for inspections and safety checks. The loss of nuclear capacity resulted in a shift in Japan's energy mix toward oil and natural gas.

The country’s electricity prices and carbon emissions both soared. In 2012, Japan ranked as the world’s second largest net importer of fossil fuels, trailing only China, according to the U.S. Energy Administration. It’s also the largest importer of liquefied natural gas, and the second largest importer of coal.

Japan meets less than 15% of its own total primary energy use from domestic energy sources. Before the 2011 accident, nuclear energy produced about 29% of Japan’s electricity. To reduce both import costs and growing CO2 emission, in 2012 the government began the application process with regulatory authorities for permission to restart its nuclear power operations.

SENDAI-1 IS FIRST PLANT TO OPERATE UNDER NEW STANDARDS OF NRA

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) was created as an independent agency in 2012 by separating the functions of the former Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency industry watchdog from the pro-nuclear Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Charged with developing new safety standards and response guidelines in the event of another disaster, the NRA’s sole mission is ensuring public safety.

The NRA established a new safety regime that all Japanese nuclear facilities must meet before resuming operations. Of Japan’s 43 operable reactors, 25 of them have requested permits to restart.

In its briefing document, the NRA says procedures for gaining approval for restart included “review and approval of the detailed design, followed by a plant inspection, as well as a separate assessment and approval of the operating management system.”

Kyushu Electric Power Company submitted a joint application to restart Sendai 1 and Sendai 2 to the NRA in July 2013.

Sendai 1 has a net electrical capacity of 846 MW. Before 2011, it produced an average of 6157 GWh (gigawatt hours) of electricity annually. The operation of Sendai 1 eliminates about six million tons of carbon dioxide emissions produced by coal-fired generation.

Sendai 2 should restart in October.

Topics: Safety and Security