National incentive for nuclear regulation

09 August 2013

Greater investment in nuclear regulation will pay dividends for Japan as it moves to restart nuclear reactors. Mobilising more safety review teams could save the country ¥850 billion ($8.8 billion) if it means more reactors can restart sooner.

The figure comes from the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan (IEEJ), which published an outlook to FY2014 taking nuclear restarts into account along with many other economic factors, including effects of the 'Abenomics' policies of prime minister Shinzo Abe.

Applications for ten reactor restarts were submitted by utilities as soon as the Nuclear Regulation Authority finalised its requirements in July. 

The IEEJ expects the Nuclear Regulation Authority to conduct restart safety assessments using three main teams as well as a specialist earthquake team and a tsunami team. Staff assigned to those are to number about 80. Taking 6-12 months for each assessment, it is assumed that a maximum of six reactors at three power plants can be processed at a time.

This relates to a 'mid-level case' for restarts where 80 staff take six months per assessment and six reactors come back online by the end of FY2013 (April 2014) and 16 reactors at the end of FY2014. Under this scenario, Japan would be expected to cut the use of oil for electricity generation. Coal would remain steady at levels slightly above those seen before the Fukushima accident but gas will continue to grow, reaching usage some 26% higher than before the nuclear accident.

Accelerating the process by assigning 160 staff to reviewing utility restart applications instead of 80 would cost an extra ¥3.2 billion ($33 million) said the IEEJ. However, it could result in 28 reactors operating instead of 16 and avoid "an outflow of national wealth worth ¥850 billion ($8.8 billion)." The main component of the savings relates to imported fossil fuel, which would come with the additional benefits of avoiding 34 million tonnes of CO2 emissions for FY2014. This would mean the first cut in national emissions in five years, said IEEJ, down from a historic high in FY2013 but still 16% above 1990 levels.

The IEEJ put a figure of 2.7% on economic growth during FY2013, expecting this to continue into FY2014 at a lower rate of 0.8%. After three years of energy saving, this will push electricity demand up by 1.3%.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News