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Decommissioning old ones

September 5, 2014

Utilities consider decommissioning old reactors

Sep. 5, 2014 - Updated 14:01 UTC+2


The Japanese government will consider measures to ease the financial impact on utility companies when they decommission their old nuclear reactors.

The government wants to cut the country's dependence on nuclear power.

Last year, nuclear regulators introduced tougher safety guidelines for power plants. The regulators limited the lifespan of nuclear reactors to 40 years. They can grant extensions of up to 20 years under certain conditions.

Seven reactors at 5 power plants have reached, or will soon reach, the 40-year-mark.

The government has given the operators until next July to decide whether to apply for an extension or take the expensive step of scrapping them.
Industry ministry officials say they are considering ways to ease the financial impact and encourage the companies to decommission their old reactors.

Industry Minister, Yuko Obuchi said the government will help utilities to restart reactors that have been found to be safe. At the same time, she said, the government will help them decommission their reactors if they choose.

Japan's 48 commercial reactors are all offline. Nuclear regulators are studying safety measures at several plants to determine whether they can be restarted.

Kansai Electric mulling over decommissioning aging Mihama reactors



OSAKA--Kansai Electric Power Co. is considering decommissioning two reactors at its Mihama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, but is intent on restarting two others at its Takahama plant in the same prefecture, sources said.

More than 40 years have passed since the No. 1 and 2 reactors at the facility in Mihama went into operation. Now, officials at the utility feel the high cost of maintaining the reactors to meet new government safety standards may be too prohibitive.

A final decision on decommissioning the two reactors will be made before the end of the year, whereby the utility will then meet with officials from Fukui Prefecture and the Mihama municipal government to discuss their plans.

Kansai Electric officials are also moving toward the resumption of operations at the relatively newer No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Takahama nuclear power plant, once those reactors are confirmed safe.

In its basic energy plan, the central government described nuclear energy as an "important base-load power source" and intends to maintain a certain number of plants. While the central government is considering decommissioning older nuclear facilities, it has not rejected resuming operations at other plants, nor the rebuilding and expanding of existing plants and constructing of new ones.

Kansai Electric’s plans are in keeping with that central government policy.

In 2010, Kansai Electric made the decision to operate the No. 1 Mihama reactor for a maximum of 50 years, for which it obtained consent from the local communities. That reactor first went online in 1970.

Preparations were also made to operate the No. 2 reactor, which began operations in 1972, beyond 40 years.

However, the revised law on regulating nuclear reactors that went into effect last year, in principle, set a period of 40 years for operating reactors. The power companies can seek a one-time exemption to extend operations for an additional 20 years.

Implementing that extension, though, requires a "special inspection" to determine the condition of vital equipment. Reactors must also pass a safety check by the Nuclear Regulation Authority using the newer, stricter standards.

In order to meet those new standards, the No. 1 and 2 reactors at Mihama will require huge investments of time and money to deal with various issues, including fire prevention. Moreover, the Mihama plant faces another problem, with a fault line running under the site.

The two reactors have a combined power generation capacity of 840 megawatts, which is smaller than the capacity of a single reactor constructed after the Mihama reactors went into operation.

Those factors will be considered, along with any impact on the company’s management, in determining if the two reactors should be decommissioned.

Kansai Electric also faces a tight schedule if it wants to continue operating the Mihama reactors. It has to submit an application with the central government by July 2015 to do so, and the results of the special inspection must be included in that application.

The utility then must pass the NRA safety check by July 2016, which some company officials believe will make it harder to win approval to extend operations.

Meanwhile, Kansai Electric faces another problem because the price tag for decommissioning reactors is also prohibitive, with the average cost of permanently shuttering one running about 50 billion yen ($476 million).

That would have a negative effect on the value of Kansai Electric's nuclear-related assets and its financial situation.

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