The domestic nuclear industry will miss a government target of providing at least a fifth of the country’s electricity by 2030, analysis shows, but the sector is showing signs of life more than seven years since the Fukushima crisis.
With eight reactors running and one more set to come online in November, nuclear has this year overtaken nonhydro renewables in power output for the first time since the 2011 catastrophe, when all of the country’s nuclear plants were idled.
Yet operators can expect as few as six units to restart in the next five years, and fewer than 20 by 2030, the analysis shows. That is far short of the 30 needed to meet the government target reiterated this year.
Based on the analysis, the world’s third-largest economy may get about 15 percent of its power from nuclear in 2030, compared with a government target of 20 to 22 percent.
“It’s impossible to meet the target, that’s pretty much confirmed,” said Takeo Kikkawa, an energy studies professor at Tokyo University of Science, who sat on an official panel that reviewed the country’s energy policy this year.
He said he did not expect another round of restarts before 2020.
Yet Japan’s nuclear industry, which before Fukushima operated the world’s third-largest number of reactors and provided about 30 percent of the country’s electricity, has staged a significant recovery.
The turnaround has exceeded expectations of analysts and the utilities themselves. Kansai Electric Power and Kyushu Electric Power, for instance, have won approval to restart or are on course to win approval for all the reactors they applied to re-license.
Those units are far from Tokyo and are pressurised water reactors (PWR), unlike the boiling water reactor (BWR) designs favored in eastern Japan, including those that melted down at Fukushima.
Many court cases are pending for reactors in the eastern part of the country. Local political support varies, and the regulator is locked in disputes with operators over earthquake risk assessment.
The older BWR technology used in many of the reactors under review is also an issue because the stigma of Fukushima hangs over them.
“When you come to the BWRs, the issue becomes very politicized,” said Nobuo Tanaka, the chairman of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation who was the head of the International Energy Agency between 2007 and 2011 after a stint in the industry ministry.
The reputation of Fukushima plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. also looms large, Tanaka said.
“Tepco does not have any support as a nuclear operator,” he said. The utility has to be removed from the equation before progress on BWR reactors can be made, he said.