TOKYO (Reuters) - Kansai Electric Power Co said on Friday it will decommission two 38-year-old reactors at its Ohi nuclear plant as Japan’s electricity industry struggles to cope with new safety standards imposed after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
The widely expected announcement brings to 14 the number of reactors being scrapped since the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. More than six years on, Japan is still turning away from nuclear power in the face of technical problems, public opposition, court challenges and unfavorable economics.
Most of Japan’s reactors remain shut, with only four operating, while they undergo relicensing processes in a bit to meet new standards set after the Fukushima crisis highlighted shortcomings in regulation.
Kansai Electric will now scrap the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at the Ohi plant, some 86 kilometers (53 miles) from Osaka, western Japan, where the utility is based. Shut since 2011, the reactors have capacity of 1,175 megawatts each, began operations in 1979 and were near the end of their standard operating life of 40 years.
A Kansai Electric spokeswoman said that costs in meeting the new safety standards were not a factor behind the decision, but technical difficulties were.
“The containment vessels of these reactors are smaller than other reactors in Japan, and a need to beef up the walls to meet the standards would make the work zones even more cramped, making it difficult for prompt repairs in case of troubles,” the spokeswoman said.
The move means Japan is likely to soon be eclipsed by China as the third biggest nuclear power sector in the world - by reactor numbers - after the United States and France.
Japan now has 42 reactors, including the two to be decommissioned at Ohi, compared with 38 in China, which has nearly 20 more under construction, while the U.S. and France have 99 and 58 respectively, according to the International Energy Agency.
Kansai Electric was the most reliant on nuclear energy among Japan’s atomic operators, using reactors for nearly half of its electricity generation before the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant in 2011, when reactors melted down following a giant earthquake and tsunami. Two other reactors at the Ohi site remain closed.
While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is keen to restore a power source that provided about a third of electricity supply before the Fukushima crisis, Japan’s public remains deeply skeptical over industry assurances on safety.
Anti-nuclear campaigners and residents are increasingly using courts to block restarts and push for plants to close.
A Japanese court last week ordered Shikoku Electric Power Co not to restart one of its reactors, overturning a lower court decision in the first instance of a higher court blocking the operation of nuclear plant.
Residents have lodged injunctions against most nuclear plants across Japan.
Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick and Osamu Tsukimori; Writing by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell