Japan restarts nuclear power programmeSeptember 2015
Japan’s first nuclear reactor approved for reactivation under post-Fukushima rules began production last month.
The Sendai No 1 reactor in northern Honshu is one of five given the go-ahead by the nuclear regulation authority, despite public objections and reservations.
The government is reintroducing nuclear power to boost an electricity supply that has been problematic and costly since the Fukushima plant was devastated by a tsunami after an earthquake in 2011 and Japan’s entire nuclear generation was halted.
Under standards set in 2013, local authorities within 30km of a nuclear plant must have evacuation plans in case of disasters, and power companies must toughen safety measures, such as reinforcing cooling systems to maintain production during emergencies.
Already nine towns and cities around Sendai have prepared evacuation procedures.
Kyushu Electric, which runs Sendai, has added barriers to protect pumps for collecting seawater to cool nuclear reactors and has built a weir to provide seawater when a tsunami recedes.
Furthermore, the company says it will stop operations and transfer spent fuel to safe locations if eruptions appear likely, but vulcanologists are sceptical.
Even the regulation authority admits the new standards cannot give a foolproof guarantee.
The government itself, though intent on reviving nuclear generation, still lacks a site for disposal of radioactive waste, and technical experts question the practice of burying it deep underground.
Public concerns, too, are widespread. Most opinion poll respondents oppose the restarting of Japan’s nuclear plants.
Nevertheless, the regulation authority has approved resumption at Sendai No 1 and four other reactors.
Sendai No 2 is expected to be reactivated next month, but another three approved reactivations are delayed. A court injunction is preventing restarts at the two Takahama reactors in southern Honshu, and local authorities have yet to give consent for the Ikata No 3 reactor on Shikoku island.
After Fukushima power companies reopened thermal plants, including some outdated installations, to fill the nuclear gap. The operation has been expensive as imported fuel is needed to run the plants.
Price hikes have followed. Domestic electricity bills have jumped by 25% and industry charges by 38%. The resulting pressure on smaller businesses has caused some closures.
Other consequences have been energy-saving policies and sharply increased adoption of solar power.
The present government now aims to reduce Japan’s reliance on nuclear power through renewable energy supplies and more energy-saving.
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