Japanese utility Kyushu Electric Power’s No 1 and 2 nuclear reactors at the Sendai plant could be the first units to pass the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s (NRA) safety examinations, an NRA spokesperson said on 14 March.
The agency is currently assessing whether the Sendai plant will be the first facility to go through priority screening, one of the assessment’s final stages, after having completed a comprehensive tsunami and earthquake review in the week ended 14 March.
However, the NRA source said the assessment of the Sendai plant will extend into the second quarter, which means Japan will not see any safety approvals by the end of March, as some sources had speculated.
“We need more time,” the NRA source said. “[The next steps are] safety checks, approval of plan for construction work, and approval of operational safety programmes.”
Once the screening of the Sendai plant is completed and approved, Kyushu will be able to seek permission from local government authorities for the facility’s restart.
According to local media source The Japan Daily Press, other nuclear plants that are in the final stages of screening are Shikoku Electric Power’s Ikata reactor No 3 and Kyushu’s Genkai reactors No 3 and No 4, both of which applied for safety assessments in July 2013.
The NRA has received a total of 17 applications for safety checks. The inspections involve a number of tasks, including evaluating the reactors’ response to possible severe accidents and assessing whether geological faults underneath nuclear plants are active – a factor that would result in a permanent shutdown of the plant.
Kansai set to avoid summer outages
Japanese utility Kansai Electric Power is planning to avoid planned outages this summer despite serious shortages in its effective nuclear power generation capacity, Makoto Yagi, the company’s president, said on 14 March during a press conference in Tokyo.
“We are thinking about taking measures so that the company will not have to implement planned outages,” he said, in order to meet power demand this summer.
The nuclear regulator decided on 13 March to prioritise safety inspections of two of the reactors owned by Kyushu, which could mean that ongoing safety checks of Kansai’s nuclear reactors face knock-on delays. Kansai needs to undergo the same process as Kyushu before seeking clearance first on federal and then local government levels.
Yagi however has said that the utility will not be able to provide sufficient power generation without operations at any of its nuclear units. The company operates four reactors at its Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture. Following the 2011 disaster at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima power plant, two of these were reactivated in July 2012 to deal with power shortages in the region. Both reactors were subsequently shut down for mandatory routine checks in September 2013 and have not been restarted. The 2,360MW Oi units 3 and 4 were the last reactors to go off line in Japan and the country has been without nuclear power generation since then.
Kansai has relied heavily on LNG and other thermal power generation fuels to fill the gap. However, its gas-fired power generation capacity is running at close to maximum levels.
Traders active in Japan said that despite the softening of LNG spot prices seen on the present market, Japanese utilities are unlikely to see significant price reductions until nuclear restarts begin to take place.
“Kansai is likely to be in the [spot LNG-buying] market for [the] July to September period. While industrial demand can be curtailed, a certain level of power generation, particularly related to household usage, still needs to be maintained,” one trader said.
“Kansai has been among [the] top spot LNG buyers in Japan in 2013. I don’t anticipate that the situation will change much further in 2014,” he added.
Yagi on the other hand told the press conference that the company could purchase power from other utilities and introduce non-mandatory power-saving measures. Abache Abreu/Roman Kazmin