Japan aims major shift back to nuclear to avoid new power woes

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) – Japan is planing a dramatic shift back to nuclear power more than a decade on from the Fukushima disaster, aiming to restart a sweep of idled reactors and to develop new plants using next-generation technologies.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is backing the potential development and construction of new reactors as the country aims to avoid new strains on power grids that buckled under heavy demand this summer, and to curb the nation’s reliance on energy imports.

Kishida aims to make a formal announcement later on Wednesday (Aug 24), the Nikkei newspaper reported without citing a source for the information.

At the same time, Japan’s economy ministry wants to restart seven more nuclear reactors as soon as next summer, the Yomiuri newspaper reported without attribution. That would bring the number of reactors brought back online after the 2011 Fukushima catastrophe to 17 out of a total 33.

Tokyo Electric Power Co, Japan’s top utility and operator of an idled nuclear power plant in Niigata prefecture, rose as much as 9.4 per cent, while reactor builder Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. jumped as much as 5.5 per cent and Japan Steel Works Ltd by as much as 10 per cent.

Japan’s government has been considering a new expansion of nuclear power after struggling to contend with the impact of extreme weather and a global fuel shortage on electricity supply.

The nation’s capital has seen two major power crunches this year, including during the worst heat wave for the end of June in more than a century.

Countries around the world are revisiting atomic energy after Russia’s war in Ukraine upended fossil fuel markets and sent power bills surging, while public sentiment in Japan has been shifting in favour of turning idled plants back online.

To be sure, many of the idled reactors in Japan face enormous hurdles that are outside the control of the central government. Utilities must get approval from local municipalities ahead of restarting reactors, which can sometimes take years amid opposition in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

Separately, the Nikkei newspaper reported that Kishida will instruct officials to consider extending the lifespan of existing reactors beyond the current maximum of 60 years.