Earthquake Creates Pressure To Shut Off Japan’s Last Nuclear Plants

REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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The magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck Japan Friday has intensified political pressure to shut down the country’s two remaining nuclear reactors.

An online petition to shut down one of the country’s remaining reactors drew almost 79,000 signatures worldwide as of Monday afternoon. The petition was seemingly created by a former resident of the area in southern Japan where the quake struck.

“Given the general situation on Kyushu — including the ongoing seismic and volcanic activity, the large number of evacuees, and the damage to the transportation infrastructure — I believe it would be prudent for the reactors to be shut down until conditions have stabilized,” Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said to The Japan Times.

Despite the political pressure, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority said Monday morning there were no abnormalities at any of the country’s nuclear facilities and confirmed that the seismic intensity of the earthquakes were well below the level when reactors should be switched off. The quake triggered tsunami warning systems and killed at least 40.

Japan previously shut down all its nuclear reactors in the aftermath of the 2011 magnitude 9.0 earthquake that triggered the Fukushima disaster.

Prior to the disaster, Japan operated 54 nuclear power plants, which provided a third of the country’s electricity. The government even planned to build enough reactors to provide half of the country’s power. After the disaster, Japan pledged to abandon nuclear power by the 2030s, replacing it mostly with wind or solar power, causing the price of electricity to rise by 20 percent.

The transition to green energy hasn’t gone well. Japan remains a top importer of oil, coal and natural gas and the government estimated that importing fuel costs the country more than $40 billion annually.

Statistically, nuclear reactors are the safest form of generating power and are responsible for 1,889 times fewer deaths than the coal plants replacing them in Japan.

Japan’s current government is seeing a revival of nuclear power as critical to supporting economic growth and slowing an exodus of Japanese manufacturing to lower-cost countries.

Electricity from new wind power is nearly four times as expensive as electricity from existing nuclear power plants, according to analysis from the Institute for Energy Research. The rising cost of the subsidies needed to make green energy work have been passed onto ordinary Japanese rate-payers, triggering complaints that poor households are subsidizing the affluent.

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