Japan nearer to firing up nuclear reactors
By The Associated Press
Published: Sunday, July 7, 2013, 9:51 p.m.
TOKYO — Japan is moving a step closer to restarting nuclear reactors as utilities are set to ask for safety inspections at their idled reactors, the clearest sign of a return to nuclear energy nearly two and a half years after the Fukushima disaster.
With all but two of its 50 reactors off line since the crisis, Japan has been without nuclear energy that once supplied about a third of its power.
Four of nine Japanese nuclear plant operators — supplying the regions of Hokkaido, Kansai, Shikoku and Kyushu — will apply for inspections by the Nuclear Regulation Authority for 10 reactors at five plants on Monday, when new safety requirements take effect. Applications for two more reactors are expected later in the week.
Reactors that pass the stricter rules will be allowed to reopen possibly early next year, with each inspection expected to take several months. Critics say the rules have loopholes, including grace periods for some safety equipment.
Hit by soaring gas and oil costs to run conventional power plants to make up for the shortfall, Japanese utility companies have desperately sought to put their reactors back online.
Nearly all the utilities owning nuclear power plants reported huge losses last fiscal year due to higher costs for fuel imports. Hokkaido Electric Power Co., for example, said it has been hit with additional daily fuel costs of $6 million to make up for three idled reactors. Nuclear operators have requested rate hikes or plan to do so.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pushed for restarts since taking office in December, freezing the previous government's nuclear phase-out plan. Resumption of nuclear power plants is part of his ruling party's campaign platform in parliamentary elections in two weeks.
New rules for the first time require plants to guard against radiation leaks in the case of severe accidents, install emergency command centers and enact anti-terrorist measures. Operators are required to upgrade protection for tsunamis and earthquakes, as well as tornadoes and aviation accidents.
Safety was previously left up to the operators, relying on their self-interest in protecting their investments as an incentive for implementing adequate measures.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. came under fire for underestimating the risk of a tsunami and building a seawall that was less than half the height of the wave that hit Fukushima Dai-ichi and caused multiple meltdowns and massive radiation leaks. About 160,000 evacuees still cannot return home.
“We decided to apply because we're confident about the safety measures we've taken,” said Shota Okada, a spokesman at Hokkaido Electric Power Co., filing for the triple-reactor Tomari plant. “We'll do everything to accommodate a smooth inspection process.”
Critics say the requirements have loopholes that make things easier for operators, including a five-year grace period — given to reactors known as PWRs that come with larger containment chambers considered less likely to suffer from pressure buildup than ones like those ravaged at Fukushima — for taking some mandated steps. This means half of the 48 reactors that use a pressurized water system could operate without the features for up to five years.
All 10 reactors set for inspections are PWRs, and filtered vents and command centers are reportedly still under way at many of them.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Egypt strikes a perilous repose
- Study: Afghan copter choice not best
- Becoming extra wife is fantasy in Kazakhstan
- Defense Secretary Hagel skips visit with Afghan President Karzai
- Taste of free enterprise whets Cubans’ appetite
- Autobahn toll plan attracts backlash
- Bali summit yields global trade deal
- Iran presses ahead with uranium
- Benghazi dangers frighten diplomats
- American held in North Korea offers apology
- U.N. in Iraq worried about uptick in bodies found