TOKYO — Japan’s nuclear plant operators face ballooning costs for meeting safety requirements imposed six years ago, potentially throwing a wrench into the government’s policy of promoting the atom as a low-cost, reliable energy source.
The estimated total cost of bringing plants into compliance with current standards sits at roughly 4.8 trillion yen ($44.2 billion), according to a Nikkei survey of nine of the 10 big regional electricity providers along with Japan Atomic Power and Electric Power Development. The survey excluded Okinawa Electric Power, which has no nuclear capacity.
In January 2013, the utilities had pegged the cost of safety measures at just 900 billion yen. About six months later the Nuclear Regulation Authority — the country’s nuclear watchdog — imposed some of the world’s toughest safety standards to prevent a recurrence of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, triggered by an earthquake and tsunamis.
These requirements are poised to drive up the cost of nuclear power generation. In 2015, the government estimated that nuclear energy would cost as little as 10.3 yen per kilowatt-hour to generate in 2030 — less than coal at 12.9 yen, or solar at 12.5 to 16.4 yen.
But the price of nuclear rises by 1 yen per kilowatt-hour for every 100 billion yen that safety-related expenses add to the cost of a new reactor. Meanwhile, solar and wind have become cheaper, dropping below 10 yen per kilowatt-hour in a growing number of cases overseas and even becoming competitive with nuclear in certain areas.
Consumers may end up bearing a portion of the burden through higher electricity rates.