Japan Restarts First Nuclear Power Plant Since Fukushima Disaster

Nuclear power plant by night. TTstudio/Shutterstock.

The Fukushima disaster forced Japan to gradually shut down its nuclear reactors. This week, Japan has restarted its first nuclear reactor under new safety guidelines. Kyushu Electric Power has resumed operations at its nuclear one reactor in Sendai nuclear power plant amid protests from local residents.

The 2011 Fukushima disaster occurred as a result of the powerful earthquake and tsunami that shook the country. These events triggered a series of meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, which resulted in the evacuation of 160,000 people. Experts suggest that many may not be able to return home. The removal of melted fuel is due to begin in 2022 and the decommissioning process is expected to take 40 years.

Before the disaster, nuclear power provided Japan with 30% of its electricity, according to the Wall Street Journal. Since then, Japan has had to depend heavily on imported fossil fuels to meet its energy needs. The government has said that it is moving back to nuclear power to cut the growing costs of importing energy and increasing CO2 emissions.  

The BBC reports that there is “strong public unease” at the government’s decision to return to nuclear energy. Protestors gathered outside the plant, including ex-prime minister Naoto Kan who reportedly told the crowds: “We don't need nuclear plants” as the Fukushima disaster demonstrated how “dangerous and expensive” they can be.

The Sendai nuclear plant is expected to start generating energy by Friday and will reach full capacity next month. It’s the first to meet strict new standards, and the second reactor at Sendai will restart in October. 25 plants have so far applied to be restarted, but regulators have so far given clearance to 5 reactors.

Yoichi Miyazawa, Japan's industry minister, insisted that the government would “put safety first,” the Associated Press reports. Miyazawa stated that nuclear energy is “indispensable” and it would be impossible to “keep nuclear plants offline, while also trying to curb carbon dioxide and maintain the same electricity cost.”

Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka told Nikkei newspaper that under the new rules, “A disaster like that at Tokyo Electric Power's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant will not occur,” The Guardian reports. Tanaka did add that though the plant underwent tough safety procedures, there’s still “no such thing as absolute safety.”

Mamoru Sekiguchi, energy campaigner at Greenpeace Japan, told The Guardian that safety issues have been ignored by the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s review process and the restart demonstrates “just how desperate the nuclear industry and their government allies are.”

“Rather than a nuclear renaissance, much of Japan’s ageing nuclear reactor fleet will never restart. Prime minister Abe and the nuclear regulator are risking Japan’s safety for an energy source that will likely fail to provide the electricity the nation will need in the years ahead,” Sekiguchi added.

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