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Japan after Fukushima: only 10% of nuclear capacity in operation

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

In Japan, starting January 13, only five of the countries 54 reactors are in operation: only 10% of total installed capacity. On December 16, the Japanese authorities stated that the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi is in a state of "cold shutdown". The industry definition of “cold shutdown” means that the temperature inside a nuclear reactor has stabilized below 95 degrees Celsius from the hellish temperatures of the nuclear fission process.

In the case of Fukushima Daiichi, declaring a cold shutdown suggests the crisis is over. But that is not the whole truth. In fact, the Japanese authorities have cheated by redefining “cold shutdown” to suit the situation at Fukushima. Only operating nuclear reactors can be put into a state of “cold shutdown”. Reactors that have suffered meltdowns – like those at Fukushima – cannot be. The 260 tons of nuclear fuel inside the Fukushima reactors melted and burned through the steel floors of the containment vessels and into the thick concrete under pads. The melted fuel is far from under control. This means the temperature inside the reactor can’t be regulated by conventional means.

Nuclear generation capacity
Platts reported that Japan's combined nuclear generation capacity is to fall to 5.058 GW over five nuclear reactors from January 13, as Shikoku Electric is scheduled to shut the 566 MW No 2 reactor at its Ikata nuclear power plant in western Japan that day. The 5.058 GW represents 10.3% of the country's total installed nuclear capacity of 48.96 GW over 54 reactors, according to Platts calculations. Nuclear capacity represents 21% of Japan's total installed power generation capacity of 228.479 GW.

Japan is currently in the middle of its winter power demand season, which typically runs over December-March. Weather and nuclear utilization rates have a direct impact on crude, fuel oil and LNG consumption for thermal power generation in Japan.

None of the shut nuclear plants are expected to be allowed to restart soon in view of the stress test conditions imposed by the government in July last year. In that case, Japan could see all its nuclear power output shut by May 2012 because regulations require nuclear power plants to carry out scheduled maintenance at least once every 13 months.

Decommissioning will take 40 years
In December Japan's government announced that decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi will take three or four decades - that is just for the plant alone and not the surrounding areas, composed mostly of farmland. According to the cleanup plan announced on December 21, crews will begin removing spent fuel from the plant before 2014. The timeline for removing melted fuel debris from the reactors is a decade, with a full decommissioning taking as long as 40 years. While four decades seems like a long time, some think that estimate is unrealistically short, given the scale of the nuclear disaster at the plant. An official advisory panel has estimated it may cost about US$15billion (11.8 billion euro) to decommission the plant, though some experts put it at nearly three times that amount.

'40-year limit' for reactors

Japan’s nuclear reactors will be limited to a 40-year life, allowing extensions only under stringent conditions, under new plans to be submitted to parliament. It is part of a revision in a law on nuclear plant operations following Japan’s devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami that triggered meltdowns at the Fukushima. The planned legislation, which the government aims to submit in a session of parliament starting in January, would mark the first time that Japan would legally limit how long nuclear reactors would remain in operation. The draft plan also makes its mandatory for utilities to prepare for severe nuclear accidents. Under current rules, the government has left it up to plant operators to draw up contingency plans. With strong public opposition to building new reactors, Japan is bound to reduce its reliance on nuclear energy which before the disaster met about a third of its electricity needs. How long the existing reactors will remain in operation will affect utilities' long-term business plans and determine how rapid Japan's shift away from nuclear power will be.

Environment and Nuclear Crisis Minister Goshi Hosono said exceptions from the 40-year limit would be rare. "It will be quite hard to operate nuclear reactors beyond 40 years and we will implement stringent measures on nuclear reactor operations as safety is the first priority." Under the current system, nuclear plant operators can file for an extension of operations after 30 years and they usually get granted a 10-year extension, if they provide required maintenance. It can be further extended and Japan's oldest existing nuclear reactor is Tsuruga No.1 reactor, operated by Japan Atomic Power, which went into service in March 1970.

Japanese media reported that the law may include loopholes to allow some old nuclear reactors to keep running if their safety is confirmed with tests. The proposal could be similar to the law in the U.S., which grants 40-year licenses and allows for 20-year extensions. Such renewals have been granted to 66 of 104 U.S. nuclear reactors. That process has been so routine that many in the industry are already planning for additional license extensions that could push the plants to operate for 80 years or even 100.

The Asahi newspaper reported Japan is likely to face a power shortage if it carries out the 40-year rule, which barring loopholes would force 18 more reactors to shut down by 2020, and another 18 by 2030. But promising that nuclear plants may be gone in about four decades may help the government gain public support for getting more reactors running again.

Industry donations
Haruki Madarame, the head of the Japan Nuclear Safety Commission and Seiji Shiroya, a member of the government panel, received donations totaling 7.1 million yen (US$92,000 or 72,000 euro) from the nuclear power industry before becoming members of the watchdog. The two announced that on a pressconference in Tokyo on January 2, 2012. Madarame, a former University of Tokyo professor who became the commission chief in April 2010, said he received 4 million yen over four years through 2009 from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., a major manufacturer of nuclear power reactors. Shiroya, another member of the panel who joined the commission at the same time as Madarame, said he received 3.1 million yen from a regional branch of Japan Atomic Industrial Forum Inc.(JAIF)  over three years to 2009 while serving as a Kyoto University professor. JAIF consists of power companies and other companies in the nuclear industry.

Madarame said the donations have not influenced the panel's decision-making processs. The five-member state commission is tasked with double-checking regulatory measures implemented mainly by the industry and science ministries to ensure nuclear safety. The donations provided by private entities were “intended to promote research at universities”, and the money was spent to conduct research and to cover overseas business trip costs, according to the two experts.

Shrinking population.
Several cities in the Chiba prefecture relatively close to the Fukushima Daaichi nuclear power plant are suffering a population decline as a result of the nuclear disaster, local governments have revealed in January. According to monthly population surveys conducted by municipal governments, cities have been experiencing a continuous population decline since August last year, with the single exception of September.

As of Jan. 1 this year, there were a total of 405,099 registered residents in Kashiwa, a decline of some 279 people from the previous month and also the largest fall since the slide was first observed six months ago. Kashiwa has been one of the areas in the prefecture where relatively higher radiation levels were detected in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster.

According to Kashiwa Mayor Hiroyasu Akiyama, one of the major reasons for the population decline is the municipal government's failure to address people's anxieties and frustrations over radiation. Following the meltdowns in Fukushima, the city repeatedly released statements that "The radiation is at a non-problematic level."

"Our judgment that radiation levels were 'non problematic,' and the way we addressed the issue immediately after the outbreak of the nuclear disaster caused anxiety among many young households who have children. Because of this, people from other cities stopped moving into Kashiwa," he said.

Fukushima compilation
A 28-page compilation of articles published in the Nuclear Monitor in the past 9 months about Fukushima and its consequences was published by WISE Amsterdam for the Yokohama conference "For a nuclear power free world", January 14-15. Available as pdf-document on request from

Sources:, 21 December 2011 / Mainichi Daily News (Japan), 3 & 11 January 2012 / Engineering and Technology, 6 January 2012/ Tokyo Times, 11 January 2012 / Platts, 11 january 2012
Contact: Citizens' Nuclear Information Center (CNIC). Akebonobashi Co-op 2F-B, 8-5 Sumiyoshi-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 162-0065, Japan
Tel: +81-3-3357-3800
Email: cnic[at]