Japan’s Newest Governor Wants To Shut Down Its Last Operational Nuclear Reactor

REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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One of Japan’s largest prefectures elected anti-nuclear activist Satoshi Mitazono as governor Sunday, in an election that was largely a referendum about the country’s stance on nuclear power.

Mitazono is a former television commentator and activist who ran on a platform of suspending the operations of Japan’s last operating nuclear power plant. The election poses a serious risk to the government’s efforts to restart idled nuclear plants.

A senior official at Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority told The Japan Times that the election “will not reverse” the decision to keep the reactors operating.

The Japanese government aims to restart at least 32 of the 54 reactors it shut down following the Fukushima disaster, and wants nuclear power to account for 20 percent of the nation’s total electricity generated by 2030. |

Prior to the disaster, the government planned to build enough reactors to provide 50 percent of the country’s electricity. After the disaster, Japan pledged to effectively abandon nuclear power by the 2030s, replacing it mostly with wind or solar power, causing the price of electricity to rise by 20 percent.

Nuclear power provided 29 percent of Japan’s total power output before 2011, but will decline to 13.6 percent by 2023 and 1.2 percent by 2040, according to the report. Japan got 24 percent of its electricity from coal in 2010 and the country plans to get more than a third of its power from coal by 2040. Japan previously shut down all of its nuclear reactors in the aftermath of the 2011 magnitude 9.0 earthquake, which triggered the Fukushima disaster. The country has since transitioned away from nuclear power.

The transition to green energy hasn’t gone well and the country likely won’t meet its goals, according to the report. 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. Japan’s current government sees a revival of nuclear power as critical to supporting economic growth and slowing an exodus of Japanese manufacturing to lower-cost countries, but has faced incredible pushback.

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.

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