11 Juin 2013
June 11, 2013
Kyushu Electric Power Co. is continuing to spend around 10 billion yen a year to maintain the idle No. 1 and 2 reactors at the Genkai Nuclear Power Plant in Genkai, Saga Prefecture, it has been learned, even as a potential 40-year operation limit for the No. 1 reactor looms.
Multiple company executives said that they are "not thinking at all" of decommissioning the No. 1 reactor, although it will hit the 40-year-limit defined in the revised Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law in October 2015. The Nuclear Regulation Authority can grant exceptional extensions of 20 years, and company executives, who hold a strong view that nuclear power will continue to be a more cost-effective electricity source than thermal power, are hoping to be granted that exception.
According to Kyushu Electric, the price of thermal power is over 11 yen per kilowatt-hour, while the price of nuclear power is around 7.5 yen per kilowatt-hour. Even adding in the costs to meet new nuclear safety standards, the price of nuclear power would only rise about 1 yen per kilowatt-hour, so it would still be cheaper than thermal power.
Kyushu Electric also cites the problem of the cost of decommissioning the reactor. In accordance with the Electricity Business Act, the utility is setting aside funds to decommission the reactor, but at the end of fiscal 2015 it will still be 3.6 billion yen short of the estimated 35.8 billion yen needed to decommission the No. 1 reactor.
"People are telling us to dismantle the reactor, but that would be difficult if we don't receive financial assistance," says Kyushu Electric President Michiaki Uriu.
On the other hand, bringing the old reactor in line with new safety standards would require massive investments which would go to waste if it was decommissioned upon reaching the 40-year limit. Still, it seems that Kyushu Electric officials would prefer to postpone a decision on the reactor's fate for now, even if it means expending maintenance fees, until they know whether they will be able to receive an extension for the reactor and whether it will be profitable after bringing it in line with the new safety standards.
The company's consolidated balance sheet at the end of last fiscal year showed it was 332.47 billion yen in the red, its largest deficit ever. Normally, it would not be able to afford to spend 10 billion yen a year maintaining offline reactors.
"The reason they can spend large amounts of money on an inactive facility is that the current system allows them to collect power bill income to cover expenses (such as reactor maintenance) that are deemed as prime costs," says Ritsumeikan University professor of environmental economics Kenichi Oshima.
Regarding Kyushu Electric's argument for nuclear power's cost-effectiveness, Oshima raised his doubts. "Currently there is no assurance of what degree of safety measures would have to be taken at the No. 1 reactor to earn an extension, so they can't calculate the cost-effectiveness. When you also consider the costs for compensation and disaster response in the case of a nuclear disaster, you cannot call nuclear power more cost-effective than thermal power," he said.
The No. 1 reactor emerged as a problem after it was learned that its pressure vessel was in worse condition than expected. Last year, the Nuclear Regulation Authority's previous incarnation, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said the reactor would be operational until 2033. However, the cause of the pressure vessel's deterioration remains unknown, and there is a strong opinion among experts that a non-biased research institute should analyze it. Even Hideo Kishimoto, the mayor of the town of Genkai, which hosts the plant, has expressed concern over the 20-year extension, though he is strongly calling for its reactivation.