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Oi reactors too costly to update for restart

October 18, 2017



Kansai Electric likely to scrap aged Oi reactors due to huge costs



Kansai Electric Power Co. looks set to pull the plug on two aging reactors at its Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture on grounds it would be far too costly to make safety updates to meet industry standards.


The No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at Oi have a generating capacity of more than 1 gigawatt each, making them among the most powerful in Japan.


Possible decommissioning of such large-scale reactors could jeopardize the Abe administration's goal of having nuclear energy meet 20-22 percent of the nation’s electricity needs in fiscal 2030.


To achieve that target, 30 or so reactors would need to be in operation. Currently, five are back online.


The government projects that its goal is achievable if the nation's nuclear watchdog body allows existing reactors to operate for 60 years.


Kansai Electric said that the price tag of at least 400 billion yen ($3.57 billion) in necessary safeguard measures to bring the reactors online would prove too costly for it to reap profits, according to sources familiar with the situation.


“In my opinion, they should be decommissioned, rather than going out of our way to bring them back online,” a top Kansai Electric executive said Oct. 17.


Kansai Electric is expected to make its decision in November.


The Oi reactors are each capable of generating more than 1,175,000 kilowatts. They went online in 1979, and are close to the 40-year lifespan for reactors that is now the norm under the stricter nuclear regulations established after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.


The Nuclear Regulation Authority will allow a one-time 20-year extension to that principle if an operator is deemed to have taken appropriate safety measures.


The utility has until the end of this year, and next year, to apply for extended deadlines for each of the reactors.


Kansai Electric decided to mothball two reactors at the Mihama nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant triggered by the earthquake and tsunami disaster more than six years ago.


They are among 12 reactors that face being decommissioned, including the six reactors of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled Fukushima facility.


Except for those at the Fukushima plant, all of the rest have a generating capacity well below 1 gigawatt.


Utilities have been pushing to bring reactors back online, especially ones with a larger generating capacity, to improve their bottom lines.


Shigeki Iwane, president of Kansai Electric, said at a news conference just in September, “We are thinking about applying for an extension of operations (for the Oi No. 1 and No. 2 reactors.”


But the company is now leaning toward decommissioning on grounds of the huge outlays that would be needed to keep them going under the new regulations.


Kansai Electric's overall outlay forsafeguards for seven reactors that have already restarted or are expected to in coming years will hit an estimated 830.4 billion yen.


The figure represents more than 20 percent of the overall total of 3.8 trillion yen in such measures logged by 11 operators of nuclear plants.


In addition, Kansai Electric’s spending will likely top 1 trillion yen in the end, given the requirement to safeguard nuclear facilities against a possible terrorist attack.


If Oi's two pressurized-water reactors were restarted, it would cost the company at least 400 billion yen more.


The units are designed to use ice in the event of an accident, making them unique among reactors in Japan. Their containment vessels are smaller than conventional ones.


The utility envisages that additional safety measures that would be needed to win NRA approval will be far more difficult to achieve than those needed for other reactors now back online.


Kansai Electric also expects that the NRA’s screening process will prove to be prolonged because of the reactors’ special features.


That would likely reduce the time left for the Oi reactors to operate under the 20-year extension, the sources said.


As a result, the utility fears that there is little chance of a payoff by resuming operations.

Prior to the Fukushima disaster, about 40 percent of Kansai Electric’s electricity output was generated by its 11 reactors, making it the most dependent on nuclear energy of all operators of nuclear facilities.

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