Japan is on track to restart their nuclear power plants. After a devastating earthquake, a record tsunami and consequential damage at Fukushima Daiichi, most of the nation's nuclear plants were put in cold shutdown. Now, with spiraling energy costs and a sputtering economy, the low cost and reliable energy from existing nuclear power plants appear attractive to the nation's policymakers.
American Nuclear Society's Will Davis made an important announcement in The Final Entrant: Last Nuclear Utility in Japan Applies for Restart. Davis reports that all Japanese nuclear utilities will attempt to restart at least one of their nuclear power plants. He points out that last week, the final utility submitted its application for restart. Hokuriku Electric Power Company submitted an application for its Shika Nuclear Power Plant before Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority.
Davis points out, "It answers the question once and for all whether the Japanese utilities unanimously want to continue to include nuclear in their fuel mixes for the future."
Two years ago, I predicted this decision might emerge. In my column, Take the Nuclear Option, I suggested that the Japanese would ultimately see their current investment in nuclear power facilities as too precious to waste. The marginal cost to produce power from existing nuclear assets is incredibly attractive, which is a huge competitive advantage that will be difficult for them to ignore. (Read the article for more details.)
The initial restart applications came in a rush. According to Will Davis, a year ago July, five utilities applied for restart examinations for no fewer than 12 reactors at six sites. All of these were Mitsubishi pressurized water reactors. Their ages varied from five to 30 years. These were multiple unit requests and included Hokkaido Electric Power's Tomari Nuclear Power Plant, Kansai Electric Power's Ohi and Takahama Power Plants, Shikoku Electric Power's Ikata Power Plant, Kyushu Electric Power's Sendai Power Plant and Kyushu Electric Power's Genkai NPP Nuclear Power Plant.
Two months later, Tokyo Electric Power applied, requesting to restart two units at its massive Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant. In December 2013, Chugoku Electric Power applied to restart its Shimane Nuclear Power Plant. At the same time, Tohoku Electric Power applied to restart Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant. The first application of 2014 came in February, when Chubu Electric Power applied to restart their Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant.
In May, Japan Atomic Power Company (JAPC) applied to restart its Tokai Daini Nuclear Power Plant. With a commercial operation date in November 1978, this is by far the oldest reactor up for restart in Japan. In June, Tohoku Electric Power applied to restart the Higashidori Nuclear Power Plant. Davis points out that this facility is a recent vintage, having entered commercial service in 2005.
So far, restart applications have amounted to 20 nuclear power plants overall. They include multiple designs from different manufacturers.
Like the U.S., applying to operate a nuclear power plant and actually gaining permission from regulators are two separate things. Like the United States, there will be contentious public forums, tortuous consensus building and difficult decisions. In the end, Japan's utilities and policymakers will conclude that nuclear is the least objectionable solution to growing energy and environmental challenges.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., a similar pattern is emerging. It seems nuclear power is gaining new traction. NextEra Energy (NEE) is attempting to build two new nuclear power plants at its Turkey Point facility. Duke Energy (DUK) is discussing plans to build two new units at its Lee County site. Both plan to use Japanese nuclear plant technology owned by Toshiba.
The most surprising story is from a Westinghouse announcement. Blue Castle Holdings signed a memorandum of understanding to develop a two-unit nuclear power plant in Utah. The name of the proposed facility is Blue Castle Nuclear Power Plant.
All three units have huge hurdles to overcome before serious nuclear construction begins. While all three plan to use pre-approved Westinghouse reactors, they must seek Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval to either amend site permits or start from scratch. They must acquire combined operating licenses and then seek financing.