” KAGOSHIMA – Japan resumed using electricity generated by nuclear power Friday after a two-year hiatus, following the reactivation earlier this week of a reactor upgraded under tough new safety regulations.
The No. 1 reactor at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture began generating and delivering electricity in the utility’s service area, despite persistent public concern over the use of nuclear power following the Fukushima disaster triggered by a huge earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
The reactor, which came back online Tuesday for the first time since May 2011, will gradually increase output and is expected to run at full capacity in late August, according to the utility. The No. 1 reactor, which reached criticality, a self-sustained nuclear fission chain reaction, late Tuesday night, has an output capacity of 890,000 kilowatts and can meet the electricity demand from some 300,000 average households.
The resumption of nuclear electricity generation is “an important step forward” in securing more stable power supply, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yoichi Miyazawa said in a statement.
The nuclear crisis, the worst since the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe, eventually resulted in the shutdown of all of Japan’s commercial reactors by September 2013, cutting off the country’s nuclear power supply. All 43 reactors apart from the Sendai unit remain offline.
The government is seeking to restart the remaining idled nuclear plants that have met what it claims are “the world’s toughest safety standards,” citing the necessity of stable power supply and lower electricity bills that have surged since the Fukushima nuclear crisis began.
With the majority of people opposing nuclear power, however, critics question the government’s rush to restart. So far, power shortages have been avoided thanks to fossil fuel-based power generation and energy-saving efforts.
Still, Kyushu Electric said the Sendai reactor’s reactivation will enable the company to supply electricity without power procurement from other utilities.
The utility expects its business, which has been hurt by the high cost of importing fuel, to improve drastically with the reactivation and return its balance sheet to the black for the first time in five years in the fiscal year to March 2016.
Last September, the two-reactor Sendai complex became the first nuclear facility to pass the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s safety screening based on the new regulations, a prerequisite for being allowed back online.
Kyushu Electric plans to restart the Sendai plant’s No. 2 reactor as early as October.
Separately, three reactors at two plants have also obtained the regulator’s safety clearance.
A reactor at Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata plant could come back online this winter at the earliest after obtaining local approval.
The outlook is uncertain for two reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama plant after a court in April banned the utility from restarting the units, citing safety concerns. ”