First Nuclear Reactor Since Fukushima Disaster Comes Back Online in Japan
Kansai Electric Power Co restarted one of its nuclear reactors, making it the first one to come back online in Japan after the Fukushima crisis in 2011.
On 1 July 2012, Reuters reported that the Japanese utility company Kansai Electric Power Co restarted the Ohi Power Station Unit 3, following an approval from the Japanese government. The unit, which is a pressurised water reactor, has a rated electricity output of 1,180 MW. The Ohi Unit 4 is scheduled for a restart later in July.
The Japanese government approved the restart of the two reactors at the Ohi power plant so as to prevent power shortages over the summer. Nevertheless, the decision sparked protests in cities around Japan, with approximately 100 protesters blocking a road near the Ohi nuclear facility. Yet, a Kansai Electric spokesman said that the protest in question did not affect the reactivation, although a vice cabinet minister sent to watch the operation had to arrive by boat.
!m(/uploads/story/97/thumbs/pic_1_inline.png)In addition, some 7,000 protesters marched through the streets of Tokyo, calling for an end to the use of nuclear power. This is hardly surprising since according to an opinion poll conducted in March 2012 by the Asahi newspaper, showed that 57 percent of the respondents opposed the restart of nuclear reactors, whereas 80 percent did not trust the government’s safety measures, as reported by Reuters at the time. Another more recent poll, conducted by the Mainichi newspaper and reported by Bloomberg, showed 71 percent opposition to a speedy restart of the Ohi reactors.
Yet, despite the public safety concerns, Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said on 8 June 2012 that the nation needed to resume nuclear power generation to avoid blackouts and preserve quality of life. In addition, as noted by Bloomberg, Japan’s biggest business lobby has warned that power outages would lead to factory shutdowns, with Komatsu Ltd and NEC Corp indicating that they might move their production overseas if there is insufficient power for their factories.
Before the Fukushima crisis, nuclear energy accounted for almost 30 percent of Japan’s energy needs, making the country the world’s third-biggest nuclear power user after the United States and France. Yet, after the March 11 earthquake and the following meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co’s Fukushima station, the country’s reactors were gradually closed, with the last operating reactor shutting down on 5 May 2012. Japan’s utilities are running stress tests to assess whether the nuclear reactors will be able to withstand the earthquake and tsunami damages, which caused the Fukushima disaster.
On 11 June 2012, Bloomberg wrote that according to a panel of Japanese scientists the two Ohi nuclear reactors were safe to operate, giving Prime Minister Noda the approval needed to reactivate the units.
The panel was appointed by the governor of the Fukui prefecture, where the Ohi power plant is located, with the purpose of providing an extra measure of safety checks. Yet, further restarts of nuclear reactors in Japan will probably be delayed until after the winter season, as a new regulatory panel will have to review stress-test results.
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