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Japan holds major disaster drill following nuclear plant restarts

04 September 2018

According to a JIJI news agency report, a nuclear disaster drill took place on August 22 mobilising 21,000 people in Fukui Prefecture which assumed simultaneous major radiation release incidents at the Oi and Takahama nuclear power plants, both of which now have operational reactors.

Kansai's Mihama 3 could restart in 2020 after safety upgrades - Shutterstock
Kansai's Mihama 3 could restart in 2020 after safety upgrades - Shutterstock

This was the first disaster response drill designed for serious simultaneous accidents at multiple plants since the Fukushima nuclear crisis in March 2011. The drill involved residents and officials from the Cabinet Office, the Nuclear Regulation Authority and municipal governments.

The exercise focused on evacuating residents from Fukui and surrounding prefectures. It also involved personnel aboard a Maritime Self-Defense Force vessel, helicopters and land evacuation by bus.

The Oi and Takahama plants, both managed by Kansai Electric Power Co., are just 13.5 km from each other. Oi unit 3 was restarted on 14 March 2018 and unit 4 was restarted on 9 May 2018, while Takahama unit 4 was restarted on 22 May 2017 followed by unit 3 on June 6, 2017.

Holding these disaster exercises are a condition of the reopening of Japan’s nuclear generating plants, all of which were closed after the Fukushima disaster in April 2011.

As of August 2018, there are 42 operable reactors in Japan. Of these, nine reactors in five power plants have been given a licence to restart by the Nuclear Regulation Authority and eight have received approval to operate from local courts.

Kyushu Electric has also restarted Genkai 3 & 4 (in April and June 2018) and Sendai 1 & 2 (in August 2015 and January 2017).

Shikoku Electric’s Ikata 3 reactor resumed commercial service on 7 September 2017, but in December the Hiroshima High Court ordered its closure until the end of September 2018. The dispute centres on the evaluation of earthquake risk under the stricter post Fukushima regulations.

Electric utililities have asked the NRA to certify another 21 reactors, with an estimated 12 units to come back in service by 2025 and 18 by 2030.

The return of Japan’s nuclear capacity should lead to lower imports of fossil fuels, especially LNG. Japan is the world’s biggest buyer of this fuel, and a Reuters report dated August 31 cited an analyst who estimated that each returning reactor will cut demand for LNG by as much as 1 million tonnes a year.

Prior to the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011, Japan had generated 30% of its electrical power from nuclear reactors and planned to increase that share to 40%.

Nuclear energy is expected to account for 20-22% of Japan’s power generation in 2030, with a similar portion coming from renewable sources. The remainder of the country’s power generation will be met by coal (26%), LNG (27%) and oil (3%), according to Japan’s latest energy policy.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said in 2017 that if the country is to meet its obligations under the Paris climate accord, then nuclear energy needs to make up between 20-22% of the nation's portfolio mix.

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