Public pressure forces Japan Govt to bow, ignoring the Corporate interests.
Japan switches off last nuclear reactor
September 15, 2013 7:18AM ET
Government has met electricity demand for last two-and-a-half years with little production from its atomic plants
Japan’s Oi nuclear reactor is expected to stop power generation by Monday, according to the utility.Kyodo file photo/Reuters
Japan has started the process of switching off its last working nuclear reactor for a scheduled inspection with no restart date in sight due to public hostility towards atomic power.
The move Sunday leaves the world’s third largest economy without atomic energy for the second time since the Fukushima crisis erupted in March 2011.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has openly supported the use of nuclear energy, but the public has remained largely opposed to it for fears of possible serious accidents following the world’s worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
Kansai Electric Power will gradually take offline the No. 4 reactor at its Oi nuclear plant in Fukui prefecture in western Japan.
The work began Sunday evening, with the reactor expected to stop power generation after several hours before coming to a complete stop Monday, according to the utility.
Japan was previously without any nuclear energy in May 2012, when all of the country’s 50 commercial reactors had stopped for scheduled checkups, with utilities unable to restart them due to public opposition.
Fossil fuel use
Last year, government officials and utilities voiced concerns that Japan could experience major blackouts without nuclear power, particularly in the western region that relied heavily on nuclear energy.
Their fears proved to be unfounded–thanks in large part to effective energy conservation programs–but the government gave approval for Kansai Electric to restart No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Oi plant, arguing that nuclear energy was necessary to meet increased electricity demand during the winter. (Japanese demand for electricity tends to peak in late summer, with a near-comparable spike in early winter.)
The reactors were restarted in July 2012 and resumed full commercial operation the following month, while other Japanese reactors have remained idled all along.
Japan has turned to pricey fossil-fuel alternatives to fill the gap left by the shutdown of atomic plants, which had supplied about one-third of the resource-poor nation’s electricity before the Fukushima disaster.
Utilities have raised power fees to cover increased fuel costs for thermal plants while reactors remain offline.
Radiation spread over homes and farmland in a large area of northern Japan when a massive earthquake and ensuing tsunami disabled cooling systems at Fukushima Daiichi on March 11, 2011.
Last month, Japanese officials announced that the contamination was worse than previously thought.
An estimated 80,000 gallons of contaminated water has been leaking into the Pacific Ocean every day, Yushi Yoneyama, an official with the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry said on Aug. 7.
Nearly 500,000 people were evacuated from areas around Fukushima in the days following the start of the crisis, and tens of thousands are still not permitted to return. Some areas expected to be uninhabitable for many decades.
Al Jazeera and wire services
Japan to be nuclear-free as last reactor switched off
Updated 7 hours 3 minutes ago
Smoke rises from Fukushima nuclear power plantPhoto: Smoke rises from the damaged reactors number 3 and 4 at the Fukushima nuclear power plant during the crisis. (TEPCO)
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Japan has begun switching off its last operating nuclear reactor for an inspection, with no date scheduled for a restart amid strong public hostility towards atomic power.
The move will leave the world’s third-largest economy without atomic energy for the second time since the Fukushima nuclear crisis in March 2011.
Nuclear power supplied about one-third of the resource-poor nation’s electricity before a tsunami knocked out cooling systems and sparked meltdowns at Fukushima, causing tens of thousands to flee their homes.
Prime minister Shinzo Abe has openly supported a return to the widespread use of atomic energy, but the public remains largely opposed on safety grounds.
Kansai Electric Power (KEPCO) gradually started to take offline the No. 4 reactor at its Oi nuclear plant in the western prefecture of Fukui on Sunday.
Japan previously was without any nuclear energy in May 2012, when all of the country’s 50 commercial reactors stopped for check-ups in the wake of the disaster.
Utilities were unable immediately to restart them due to public opposition.
It was the first time in more than four decades that Japan had been without nuclear power.
Government officials and utilities voiced concern at the time that Japan could face major blackouts without nuclear power, particularly in the western region that relied heavily on nuclear energy.
Their fears proved unfounded but the government last year gave Kansai Electric approval to restart No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Oi plant, arguing that nuclear energy was necessary to meet increased electricity demand during the winter.
The reactors were reactivated in July 2012 and resumed full commercial operation the following month, but the No. 3 reactor was shut down earlier this month for a scheduled inspection. The nation’s other reactors have remained idle.
Utilities have submitted applications to restart their reactors with the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which has significantly upgraded safety standards since the Fukushima crisis.
The central government and utilities will seek the consent of local governments and communities hosting nuclear plants before any future restarts.
The No. 3 reactor at the Ikata nuclear plant in Ehime prefecture in the south-western Shikoku region may come back online early next year, the Sankei Shimbun newspaper said.
The Asahi Shimbun meanwhile said the reactor at Ikata might resume operation in “the coming winter”.
Greenpeace says shutdown is proof nuclear plants not needed
Anti-nuclear campaigner Greenpeace Japan said the country must seize the opportunity of being without nuclear power to focus on promoting renewable energy.
“Having zero running nuclear reactors is proof that we do not need nuclear plants,” Junichi Sato, executive director of the environmental group in Japan, said in a statement.
He urged the government not to rush to restart reactors and to focus on containing the ongoing atomic crisis at Fukushima, and helping those evacuated to avoid exposure to radiation.
“Going without nuclear energy for the second time is a major opportunity for Japan to become a leading nation for renewable energy,” he said.
But utilities have called for the swift restart of reactors to ensure stable electricity supplies.
“In order to maintain stable supplies, we believe it is necessary for nuclear to play its role” as a key energy source, Federation of Electric Power Companies chairman Makoto Yagi said.
He is also the president of Kansai Electric.
Japan has turned to expensive fossil-fuel alternatives to fill the gap left by the shutdown of atomic plants.
Utilities have raised charges to cover increased fuel costs for thermal plants.
Radiation was spread over homes and farmland in a large area of northern Japan when the massive tsunami hit Fukushima on March 11, 2011.
No one is officially recorded as having died as a direct result of the meltdowns, but tens of thousands were evacuated and many remain so.
Some areas are expected to be uninhabitable for decades.