Reactor restart in Japan highlights credentials of nuclear
On 11 August 2015, Kyushu Electric Power Company (Epco.) restarted the Sendai-1 nuclear reactor. It is the first reactor to resume operation in Japan, since all of the country’s nuclear power plants (NPPs) were shut down for safety checks and upgrades following the Fukushima accident. It will help the country restore its trade balance and meet its CO2 reduction targets.
Located in Kagoshima prefecture (South East of Japan), Sendai NPP has two 890 MW pressurized water reactors. Sendai-1 is the first of the country’s nuclear reactors to operate since September 2013. The two reactors at Sendai were closed for periodic inspections in May and September 2011, respectively. Sendai-2 is scheduled to restart within a couple of months.
Over twenty reactors have applied to be reopened and are currently being upgraded to comply with post-Fukushima safety requirements. This will enable them to receive the national regulatory authority (NRA)’s greenlight for restart. The Japanese government plans to have a nuclear share of 20-22% in total electricity generation by 2030 in order to reduce CO2 emissions by 26% compared to 2013.
In May 2015, the NRA approved Kyushu’s operational safety plans for the Sendai NPP. These include emergency response plans in case of fire, flooding or other natural disasters, or a serious accident. The local population and decision-makers also had their say in the decision to restart Sendai. In fact, the NPP could not have restarted without their assent. In October 2014, the local population voted in favour of reopening the two reactors at Sendai. According to the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF), 19 out of the 26 local decision- makers backed the restart of the reactors, 4 voted against it and 3 abstained.
Kyushu Epco president Michiaki Uriu said, “We see this start-up as one of the important steps in the restart process for the nuclear reactor.” He added, “We will continue to sincerely make an all-out effort to deal with the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s (NRA’s) inspections, and carefully carry out the remaining process, giving utmost priority to safety, with a sense of alertness more than ever.” The company estimates that the restart of Sendai-1 will decrease by $60 million per month the costs due to the use of fossil fuels and will also contribute to reducing CO2 emissions.
The restart of Sendai-1 shows once again that nuclear power makes a crucial contribution to addressing global challenges. Nuclear together with other low-carbon energy sources is part of the solution to meet rising energy demand while mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. In the EU, nuclear energy currently provides 27% of total electricity production and is the largest source of low-carbon electricity (53%).