With last week’s declaration from Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda that he has made his decision to move ahead with reactivating the nuclear power plant in Japan’s western Fukui Prefecture, the only question remaining is “when?” While one of the government’s central arguments in restarting the reactors has been the necessity of preventing energy shortages as high as 15%, it is believed that it won’t be possible for the plant’s operating utility, Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO), to have the facility running at full strength before late July.
The whole concern over the power shortages in the western Kansai region was that they would be at their worst during the summer’s peak demand times in July and August. Even if Prime Minister Noda gave the order before the end of this week (that’s only the next three days), and KEPCO began the reactivation process this weekend, the number 3 and 4 reactors wouldn’t be at full output until July 27th. It is understood that it takes approximately three weeks for each reactor to be restarted, and number 3 will be the first. The utility company has said that it takes about 10 days to clean the water and pipes of impurities, followed by another 10 days of checking and adjusting equipment like pipes, valves, and control rods that are used to monitor and alter output. Once a reactor is fired, it will take another two to three days to full operation. Then the whole process must be repeated for the number 4 reactor.
While it’s not such a big deal that parts of Japan might have to struggle a little longer through the summer’s heat before the concern about energy shortages is over, the real significance of this is that it implies the government has no intentions of shutting the nuclear reactors down again once the summer is over. Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, once the leading opponent of returning to the use of nuclear power over safety concerns, stated that he was accepting of the reasoning that there would be severe energy shortages in the summer, and an inconsistent supply would be damaging to the economy, but he still called upon the government to return the Oi, Fukui Prefecture nuclear plant to suspension once the summer was over. With the understanding that it will take almost 40 days to have the reactors at full output, does anybody really think the government is going to go through all that just to turn it all off again in September, after the worst of the energy demands are over?