Japan’s Kyushu Electric Power has begun loading fuel into a reactor at the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant in preparation to reboot the country’s nuclear energy generation after a two-year hiatus.
The restart, originally planned for July, is expected to take place in mid-August. However, the engineers may run into difficulties reigniting the reactor, which has been idle for more than two years.
Technicians started loading uranium fuel rods into the Sendai 1 reactor at around 4.30 GMT on Tuesday and are expected to complete loading of all 157 fuel assemblies by Friday.
Kyushu Electric Power has decided to move forward with the re-ignition despite widespread public opposition against nuclear power in Japan as it struggles with ongoing economic problems.
Sendai 1 is the first nuclear reactor in the country to be restarted following the nuclear generation shutdown in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. The reactor will be reviewed by regulators for safety measures before the restart.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been pushing for the nuclear restart, arguing the country’s nuclear power plants are key to economic growth.
Energy companies in Japan have been forced to import more fossil fuels and use expensive liquefied natural gas to generate power since the shutdown, which has increased energy bills. However, in spite of that, the public remains reluctant to accept the restart due to safety concerns.
Kyushu, which has been in economic loss for the past four years, said the Sendai 1 restart would help it reduce costs incurred from burning fossil fuels by about $60m a month.
The firm, which supplies energy to seven prefectures on Japan’s south-western island, plans to also restart the 890-megawatt Sendai 2 reactor this autumn.
With both reactors operating, Kyushu will save about 15 billion yen ($122.24m) in fuel costs per month.
Kyushu’s spokesman Tomomitsu Sakata said the savings would come mainly from using less oil and LNG.
The reactors will generate about 1.3 billion kilowatt hours of power per month when fully operational, Sakata said, without giving further details.
Kyushu Electric's shares closed 6.3 per cent higher on Tuesday, tracking gains in other utilities.
Nuclear power operators in Japan considering the restart of their facilities had to implement new safety measures requested by Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority.