Power Forward
Japan’s Nuclear Restart Is Finally Here

More than five years after the Fukushima disaster, Japan is slowly bringing part of its large fleet of nuclear reactors back online. It’s been a long road back for the country’s most important source of domestic power, but after many fits and starts, three reactors are now operational, and two more reactors have already received regulator approval to be turned back on as well. The EIA reports:

Since the accident at Fukushima Daiichi in March 2011 and the subsequent shutdown of nuclear reactors in Japan, five reactors have received approval to restart operations under the new safety standards imposed by Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA). Only three of those reactors are currently operating. Applications for the restart of 21 other reactors, including 1 under construction, are under review by the NRA. Some reactors that meet the new NRA safety standards and have been approved to restart continue to face legal or political opposition that may delay or forestall their restart. […]

In July 2016, Japan’s Institute of Energy Economics (IEEJ) analyzed low, reference, and high reactor restart scenarios for fiscal years 2016 (ending March 2017) and 2017 (ending March 2018). The High case envisions that as many as 25 reactors may restart by March 2018, compared with 12 in the Low case.

The low end of analyst expectations projects another nine nuclear reactors to be brought back over the next 18 months, but if everything goes as well as it could, Japan could have nearly half of its 54-reactor nuclear fleet producing baseload power by then—an important recovery when you consider that pre-Fukushima, nuclear produced 30 percent of the country’s power.

Japan doesn’t have much by way of domestic energy reserves, and after losing its nuclear plants as an option in 2011, it has had to dramatically ramp up its energy imports, including an expensive hike in purchases of liquified natural gas. For that reason, there will be many in Tokyo encouraged by the progress in nuclear’s return on the island nation.

But concerns over the reactor safety are going to persist, and rightly so. You’d be hard pressed to find a less ideal country in which to site nuclear power plants than Japan. It lies atop a major subduction zone, and as such is subject to a wide range of serious and potentially devastating natural disasters, including flooding, storm surges, tsunamis, earthquakes, and even volcanoes. Nuclear power is generally much safer than it’s made out to be in popular culture, but reactors still need to be sited intelligently.

Japanese nuclear regulators will be doing their due diligence to mitigate the many natural risks the island faces, but it’s just as good that Asian LNG prices have plunged in recent months—that superchilled hydrocarbon may end up becoming a more permanent solution for Japan than was initially envisioned.

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