Tuesday, July 09, 2013

2 years after Fukushima, Japan one step closer to restart nuclear reactors

Map of nuclear plants in Japan

Nuclear operators in Japan have applied to restart 10 reactors, potentially paving the way for a widespread return to nuclear power in coming years. Four companies applied under new rules introduced following Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.

Hokkaido Electric, Kansai Electric, Shikoku Electric and Kyushu Electric submitted applications to restart the plants under the new regulations on Monday and sent applications for a total of 10 reactors at five plants. The new rules require nuclear operators to put in place better safeguards against disasters including tsunamis, earthquakes and terrorist attacks. 

NRA chairman Shunichi Tanaka said that bringing safety standards to international norms would "take a long time". The NRA is responsible for determining whether the reactors meet the new safety standards. The nuclear companies are then required to seek approval from national and regional politicians. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants Japan's nuclear reactors to be restarted. The country relied heavily on nuclear power for its energy supply prior to the 2011 disaster. The earthquake and tsunami on 11 March 2011 crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing meltdowns at three nuclear reactors. Engineers have since stabilised the plant but years of work lie ahead to fully contain the disaster and tackle its effects. 

NRA chairman Shunichi Tanaka

The Nuclear Regulation Authority admitted that the awareness of the dangers related to working with nuclear technology had been weak prior to the disaster, and it said that it hoped new standards would force the companies to change their approach. "The new regulations include extremely stringent requirements that the operators would not be able to endure if they don't change their culture" said the authority chairman Shunichi Tanaka. He added that the new regulator had what it took to impose the new regulations. "We have large authority and powers. If the operator does not comply with our regulations, they won't be able to operate, let alone restart their reactors." 

Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democrats must act carefully "to avoid compromising the independence of the new regulator, which is struggling to build credibility with a public whose faith in nuclear power was shaken after meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi plant." The Nuclear Regulation Authority has said it will take at least six months to review nuclear plants, after which the consent of communities that are host to reactors is needed. 2 years after Fukushima, Japan's nuclear thriller unfolds...

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