| TOKYO, July 8
TOKYO, July 8 Japan's latest attempt to dispel
public wariness over nuclear safety, by calling for "stress
tests" of how well they could withstand natural disasters, will
likely further delay scheduled restarts of idled reactors unless
the government moves quickly to give detailed procedures and
The March 11 earthquake and tsunami not only crippled the
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric
Power Co , they heightened public concerns about safety
and prompted the sudden suspension of Chugoku Electric Power
Co's Hamaoka plant southwest of Tokyo.
As residents balk, local governments have blocked the
restart of any idled nuclear reactors since the March disaster,
including several outside the disaster zone that were taken down
for routine maintenance, leaving only 19 of Japan's 54 reactors
Following are questions and answers on this week's surprise
call for stress tests, already under way in the European Union,
and the likely impact on reactor restarts and Japan's looming
power supply crunch.
Q: What are the stress tests?
They will conduct simulations, based on existing data, to
gauge the resilience of reactors both to natural disasters
within the realm of expectations and events exceeding that, as
well as to a loss of electricity and cooling systems.
It will also take note of risk and safety assessments by
similar tests on EU nuclear power plants.
Q: How long will the stress tests take?
The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), Japan's
nuclear watchdog, will come up with a detailed schedule within
the next two weeks for conducting and announcing the results of
Unlike in the EU, all Japanese utilities have already run
simulations for a "blackout" or loss of cooling functions, to
meet immediate safety regulations imposed by NISA after the
crisis, so an interim report could be compiled more quickly than
in the EU, a NISA official said. The EU interim reports are
scheduled to be completed in less than two and a half months.
Q: How do the tests differ from existing safety measures?
NISA says that recently strengthened measures have ensured
the safety of Japan's reactors but the stress tests will
supplement those to bolster confidence.
"This comprehensive assessment will gauge if the safety
measures fulfill our requirements by 100 percent, 120 percent,
or more," the NISA official said.
The government on March 30 ordered emergency safety measures
such as the deployment of back-up mobile power generators, and
confirmed in early May that Japan's reactors had complied.
The government nevertheless called for the Hamaoka plant 200
kilometres (120 miles) southwest of Tokyo to be shut until its
tsunami defences could be strengthened further, due to
government projections of an exceptionally high risk of a
massive quake and tsunami hitting the area within the next
On June 7, the government ordered further enhancements to
forestall atomic disasters, including securing communications
and preventing hydrogen explosions, and declared on June 18 that
operators had all taken appropriate measures.
Q: How will the stress tests affect reactor restarts?
It remains unclear to what extent the stress tests may delay
reactor restarts, although they have complicated the process by
creating uncertainty over government policy.
Trade Minister Banri Kaieda implied in comments this week
that reactors had already achieved safety standards required for
restarts, prior to conducting stress tests.
Asked if stress test results would become the basis for
decisions to restart reactors, Kaieda told reporters on
Thursday: "I believe the safety of reactors has already been
confirmed ... stress tests will be conducted to further increase
the sense of safety."
The announcement of the stress tests, however, prompted the
mayor of the southern Japanese town of Genkai to withdraw his
support for the restart of two reactors in his town operated by
Kyushu Electric Power Co , which were strong candidates
to become the first to restart since the March disaster. The
mayor said the prime minister had suggested stress tests were a
necessary condition for restarts.
Naohiro Niimura, a partner at research and consulting firm
Market Risk Advisory Co, said it would be difficult to gauge the
tests' impact on restarts until the government produces a
"Unless there is a clear timetable, it is difficult to
forecast the prospect of restarts. Heightening uncertainty over
the restarts could prompt companies to more seriously consider
shifting their operations overseas," he said.
Q: Which reactors are facing delayed restarts?
Following is a list of reactors that have been shut for
regular maintenance and whose restarts have been delayed or
could be delayed.
-Kansai Electric Mihama No. 1 reactor: was
scheduled to restart in early April.
-Kansai Electric Mihama No. 3 reactor: plans to restart in
-Kansai Electric Ohi No. 3 reactor: was scheduled to restart
-Kansai Electric Takahama No. 1 reactor: was scheduled to
restart in late March.
-Kyushu Electric Genkai No. 2 and No. 3 reactors: were
scheduled to restart in late March and early April,
-Kyushu Electric Sendai No. 1 reactor: plans to restart in
-Shikoku Electric Ikata No. 3 reactor: was
scheduled to restart on July 10, but will be delayed.
-Hokkaido Electric Tomari No. 1 reactor: plans to
restart early September.
-Hokuriku Electric Shika No. 1 and No. 2 reactors:
no schedule for restarts due to difficulty procuring workers and
necessary parts for checks after the earthquake.
(Additional reporting by Risa Maeda; Editing by Edmund Klamann)