Kyushu Electric Power Co. brushed aside safety concerns expressed in thousands of phone calls and e-mails, saying its Sendai nuclear plant in Kagoshima Prefecture faces no danger from the quakes rattling the southern main island.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority also supports the utility’s stance that there is no need to shut down the nuclear plant, even as a safety precaution during the seismic activity.
“Nuclear power is energy defined as necessary in the nation’s basic energy plan,” Kyushu Electric President Michiaki Uryu said at a news conference in Fukuoka on April 28. “We are operating (the Sendai plant) after confirming its safety and concluding that there is no problem with continuing to operate it.”
The news conference was held to announce the utility’s earnings for fiscal 2015, which included its first net profit in five years.
Kyushu Electric officials acknowledge that without the Sendai nuclear plant, the company would still have enough electricity to supply Kyushu this summer, even if it proves to be one of the hottest in recent years.
But the utility is eager to keep the Sendai plant online because running a nuclear power plant is cheaper than buying the fuel needed to operate a thermal power plant.
Kyushu Electric had relied on nuclear energy for 40 percent of its electricity supply before the Fukushima disaster, one of the highest ratios among the regional power companies.
Kyushu Electric’s bottom line was hit hard after all reactors in Japan were shut down as a precaution following the meltdowns at the Fukushima plant.
But since the restart of the Sendai plant, which a Kyushu Electric senior official called a “powerful card,” the company has been saving 10 billion yen ($92.6 million) to 13 billion yen a month in operating expenses.
Uryu is already pushing plans for the company’s Genkai nuclear plant in Saga Prefecture.
“We are striving to achieve a restart of the Genkai plant as early as possible,” he told the news conference.
Even if the Sendai plant loses its ability to cool the reactors after powerful earthquakes, the operator is believed to be prepared to prevent a severe accident involving the release of radioactive substances by cooling the reactors using fire engines, power supply vehicles and other sources under the new regulations.
But those erring on the side of caution note that the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, spawned a tsunami that Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the Fukushima No. 1 plant, was clearly unprepared for.
And two earthquakes 28 hours apart in the recent series of temblors both measured a maximum intensity of 7 on the Japanese seismic scale in Kumamoto Prefecture, an event unprecedented in Japan.