The prompt restart of Japan's nuclear power reactors would have "big advantages" for the country's economy and environment, according estimates by the Institute of Energy Economics of Japan (IEEJ).
All 48 of Japan's power reactors remain offline while the regulatory system reboots following the 2011 Fukushima accident and re-appraises reactor safety according to a new set of criteria announced a year ago. Nineteen reactors have applied to the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) for safety assessments, the first two of which - Sendai units 1 and 2 - are currently being assessed.
"The extent to which nuclear power plants can restart and operate has huge impacts on the Japanese economy, with serious implications regarding the environment and energy security."
The IEEJ said, "Despite the request for priority treatment, the nuclear safety assessment process remains behind its expected schedule, with the first restart not to occur until early autumn."
The organization has considered the economic and environmental impacts in financial years 2014 and 2015 (ending March 2015 and 2016 respectively) of various scenarios for the restart of reactors in Japan. These range from no reactors restarting over the period, to 32 units operating throughout FY2015 with an operating rate of 80%.
The IEEJ estimates that if restarts take place according to the current schedule - the "mid-level case" - only seven units could be approved for restart by the end of FY2014 (ending March 2015). By the end of FY2015, all 19 units that have applied for assessments could be restarted, generated some 124 TWh of electricity. However, Japan's use of nuclear energy would still be less than half that in FY2010. Nuclear could account for 2% and 15% of Japan's electricity generation in FY2014 and FY2015 respectively, compared with 31% in FY2010.
Under this scenario, average power generation costs would increase by some ¥3000 ($29.50) per MWh compared with FY2010. In addition, total spending on fossil fuel imports will increase by ¥7.7 trillion ($75.6 billion), of which additional LNG imports will account for ¥2.8 trillion ($27.5 billion). Japan's carbon dioxide emissions would also increase by some 0.9%.
If the safety assessment period takes longer than assumed in the scenario above, the IEEJ estimates that only nine reactors would be permitted to restart by the end of FY2015. However, if the authorities were able to increase their staff and if more safety assessment applications were submitted, up to 32 units could restart by then.
The IEEJ expects total primary energy supply in FY2014 to slightly decrease for the first time in two years due to a mixture of economic, energy conservation and weather factors. Meanwhile, total final energy consumption is predicted to drop in FY2014 and remains the same in FY2015.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News