Japan's nuclear power industry continues to suffer long after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Legal troubles related to the accident and stricter safety standards imposed by the government in the aftermath of the calamity are preventing a rebound in the country's nuclear power capacity, according to a survey by Reuters.
The incident occurred when a powerful earthquake off the coast of Japan triggered a tsunami. Nearly 16,000 people were killed and coastal settlements suffered major damage. The ocean surge breached the walls of the Fukushima Daiichi plant and flooded the facility's back-up power generation, crippling its cooling system and causing a meltdown.
In response to a frenzy of lawsuits and criticism that adequate safety measures were not in place prior to the disaster, the Japanese government idled the country's fleet of nuclear plants. After tightening regulations, it green lighted in mid-August the resumption of nuclear power generation at its first facility in two years.
But Reuters found that of the other 42 operable reactors remaining in the country, only seven are likely to be turned on in the next few years, down from 14 reactors the news agency predicted would return to operation in an analysis last year.The survey also found that nine reactors are unlikely to ever restart, while the fate of the remaining 26 looked uncertain.
"Four-and-a-half years after the events started unfolding at Fukushima Daiichi, the Japanese government, the nuclear utilities, and the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) have not succeeded in overcoming complete planning insecurity for investors. The outlook for restarts is as cloudy as ever," Mycle Schneider, an independent energy consultant in Paris, told Reuters.
Japan has been relying on record quantities of liquefied natural gas to make up for its lost nuclear capacity.
Kansai Electric Power, the utility most reliant on nuclear generation, sought to restart four of its reactors, but was blocked by the courts, despite NRA approval for restarting two of them. Kansai has appealed the rulings but the cases may take years to resolve, Reuters reported.
Japan Atomic Power is fighting a regulatory ruling that requires one of its reactors, which sits above an active fault, to be decommissioned. And equipment failures have slowed down Kyushu Electric's resumption of nuclear power generation.
But not all hope is lost for Japan's nuclear industry. Reuters said the NRA is considering extending the operational life of the country's facilities beyond their standard 40 years — a move that could breath life into the struggling sector. Two Kansai units, both around 40 years old, are being vetted for extensions. While the NRA has said it would be very strict on granting permission, Kansai is trying to get approval for less costly measures on fireproofing thousands of kilometers of wiring, the news agency reported.
Its findings were based on NRA reactor inspection data, court rulings, and interviews with local authorities, utilities, and energy experts.
Reuters contributed to this report.