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06/14/2013, 12:42AM ET
06/14/2013, 12:42AM ET
06/12/2013, 10:44AM ET
On May 08, 2012 03:01AM ET in Green 101
The third nuclear reactor in Tomari plant, Hokkaido prefecture, has been switched off for “routine maintenance,” leaving Japan with no nuclear power for the first time in 40 years. It was the last to be switched off among Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors scattered nationwide.
A safety drive to test Japan’s nuclear reactors began after the 2011 tsunami knocked off the cooling system at the Fukushima power plant, causing a meltdown. The ensuing crisis revived issues about the safety of nuclear power plants in the country. BBC News reports that hundreds of people marched in Tokyo in an anti-nuclear movement demonstration.
As much as 30% of Japan’s energy came from nuclear power until the disaster of last year. In the wake of the meltdown crisis and what appears to be public dissatisfaction of how authorities handled the crisis, the nuclear reactors were switched off to undergo routine maintenance and tests. The nuclear reactors need to prove that they can stand up to similar stress such as those that knocked out the Fukushima plant (earthquake, tsunami, etc.) Local officials need to give their approval before the nuclear reactors in their jurisdiction can be started up again.
Amid warnings that the nationwide shutdown of the nuclear reactors will result in power shortages, none have been restarted so far. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda made an effort to encourage the restarting of several nuclear power plants but regional authorities seem to be unwilling to go against public opinion. An estimated 5,500 people gathered in the capital to join the anti-nuclear demonstration.
Uncertainty lingers over the safety issues of the nuclear plants even though several have been declared “safe” by the Nuclear Industrial and Safety Agency, as well as the Nuclear Safety Commission. Both regulatory bodies suffered a blow to their reputations after the 2011 nuclear meltdown crisis, the Economist reports. The national government’s effort to encourage the comeback of nuclear power comes too soon as a new regulatory body is yet to be established and the investigatory reports about the Fukushima nuclear disaster have been made conclusive, the Economist report adds.
In the meantime, Japan resorts to importing large amounts of fossil fuels to generate thermal power. The nuclear shutdown symbolizes a historic moment for Japan, which has been a leading consumer of nuclear power for decades especially among Asian nations. Japan has been planning to source at least half of its electricity needs from nuclear power by 2030. Japan has certainly come a long way after its recovery from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II. Now if the nation gets through the heat of summer without the energy supplied by nuclear power, opposition against its use is expected to grow stronger. The nuclear power issue is so significant at the moment that it is expected to be a major political battleground for the nation’s authorities.
After decades of being one of Asia’s leading nuclear power consumers, will Japan be permanently nuclear-free in the near future?