Japan to retire 5 nuclear reactors in first such move since 2011 Fukushima crisis: Report

TOKYO - Five of Japan's 50 nuclear reactors will be decommissioned due to old age, the Yomiuri Shimbun has reported, as the government seeks to reassure the public of the safety of the country's reactors which have lain idle for almost four years.

The move would mark the first time Japanese utilities are retiring power reactors after all 50 of Japan's reactors were shut down in the wake of the March 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the mass-circulation daily said in a report on its website on Wednesday.

Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO), Chugoku Electric Power Co., Kyushu Electric Power Co. and Japan Atomic Power Co. will announce their decision next month, Yomiuri reported, citing unnamed sources.

The reactors are the Nos. 1 and 2 reactors at KEPCO's Mihama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture; the No. 1 reactor at Japan Atomic Power's Tsuruga plant, also in Fukui; the No. 1 reactor at Chugoku Electric's Shimane plant in Shimane Prefecture and the No. 1 reactor at Kyushu Electric's Genkai plant in Saga Prefecture.

Four of the reactors began operating more than 40 years ago while the Genkai reactor was inaugurated 39 years ago, the Yomiuri said.

The companies decided to decommission them rather than pay for expensive upgrades to meet the government's latest safety standards as their power output is less than half that of the latest nuclear reactors.

Energy costs have weighed heavily on Japan as it struggles to plug a yawning energy gap after the Fukushima crisis forced nuclear reactors to shut. The problem has been exacerbated by the sharp fall of the yen, which hiked the cost of imports.

Premier Shinzo Abe wants to restart Japan's idled nuclear reactors, but public opinion remains deeply leery.

The four utilities are scheduled to explain their decommissioning plans at next month's local assemblies of prefectures and municipalities where the nuclear reactors are located, the Yomiuri said. After obtaining local consent, they will submit their plans to Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yoichi Miyazawa, the report said.

The decommissioning will be officially decided in April at the earliest, the newspaper cited its sources as saying.

The move comes almost two years after Tokyo introduced a regulation in 2013 that limits the operation of nuclear reactors to 40 years, following the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

It will be the first time power companies are complying with the regulation, the Yomiuri said.

The decommissioning is expected to incur an average loss of 21 billion yen (S$238 million) per reactor. If the power companies write off the loss at once, it could have significant adverse effects on their managements.

On Wednesday, a task force of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry decided to come up with a special rule to allow power companies to break up their losses, prompting the four power companies to decide to decommission the five reactors.