2017 an important year for Japanese reactor restarts

11 January 2017

Japan's future use of nuclear energy could be significantly impacted by decisions made this year on restarting reactors and extending the operating periods of its older units, according to the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan (IEEJ). However, it sees nuclear playing an important role in achieving energy security, economy and environmental protection.

The IEEJ published its Energy Outlook of Japan Through 2017 report in late December 2016. This looks at the country's energy situation in the fiscal year from April 2017 to March 2018.

It sees primary energy supply in Japan in FY2017 declining for the fourth consecutive year to 468 million tonnes of oil equivalent - a 9% decrease from FY2010 - despite an improvement in the country's economy. Non-fossil energy's share of this primary supply is expected to increase on the expansion of renewable energy and the restart of nuclear power reactors.

In its reference scenario, the IEEJ says that if a total of 14 units have restarted by the end of FY2017, total nuclear generation will be 62.9 TWh. Under this scenario, Japan's fossil fuel imports will total JPY15.9 trillion ($136.7 billion), the cost of electricity will be JPY6.8 per kilowatt-hour and energy-derived CO2 emissions will total 1105 million tonnes.

"The most important point regarding nuclear energy in Japan will continue to be how nuclear power plants will be restarted".

Ken Koyama,
IEEJ chief economist

However, in its "low-restart" scenario, if only seven reactors are restarted by the end of FY2017, in comparison to the reference scenario, total fossil fuels will increase by JPY0.3 trillion, the cost of electricity by JPY0.2/kWh and energy-derived CO2 emissions by 16 million tonnes.

Under the "best mix" scenario - which reflects the generation mix of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry's long-term energy supply and demand outlook - nuclear power "will play an important role in achieving the 3E's (energy security, economy and environmental protection)". Under this scenario, nuclear output reaches 195 TWh by the end of FY2017, the cost of electricity increases by JPY0.5/kWh, imports of fossil fuels decrease by JPY1.2 trillion and energy-derived CO2 emissions fall by 101 million tonnes.

Following Japan's shut down of its nuclear reactor fleet following the March 2011 accident at Fukushima Daiichi, the country's energy-derived CO2 emissions increased for four consecutive years, reaching 1235 million tonnes in FY2013. Through the increased use of renewable energy sources, the restart of nuclear reactors and reduced demand, Japan's emissions fell over the subsequent three years to 1137 million tonnes in FY2016. The country has announced a target for 927 million tonnes by FY2030.

Five Japanese nuclear power reactors have already cleared inspections confirming they meet the new regulatory safety standards and have resumed operation. Another 19 have applied to restart.

According to IEEJ chief economist and managing director Ken Koyama, "The most important point regarding nuclear energy in Japan will continue to be how nuclear power plants will be restarted".

In a recent special IEEJ bulletin, Koyama noted the Osaka High Court is expected to give a ruling around February this year on Kansai Electric Power Company's suit seeking to overturn an injunction on the operation of Takahama units 3 and 4 imposed by the Otsu District Court in March 2016.

"The decision could exert various effects on the future restart of nuclear plants and will attract much attention," Koyama said. "Also attracting attention this year will be nuclear plant operators' decisions on whether to apply for the extension of operations for existing reactors that went online nearly 40 years ago."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News