Japan Suspends Nuclear Power Revival After New Earthquake

Andrew Follett | Energy and Science Reporter

Japan is inspecting one of its last nuclear power plants following a “moderately strong” earthquake Sunday, which could end plans to revive the country’s reactors.

The earthquake, with a modest intensity of magnitude 5, struck only 27 miles northeast of Tokyo according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The Sunday quake was 10,000 times weaker than the 9.0 magnitude Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami that caused the Fukushima disaster, but was powerful enough to be detected by most of the population. The government shut down all of its nuclear reactors after Fukushima, leading the country to transition away from nuclear power.

The Japanese government aims to restart at least 32 of the 54 reactors it shut down after the disaster and wants nuclear power to account for 20 percent of the nation’s total electricity generated by 2030. However, plans to restart the reactors have faced heavy political opposition from those who capitalized on previous quakes to keep the plants shut down. A Japanese court ordered that one of the country’s two remaining nuclear power plants be shut down in March, citing safety concerns.

Prior to the disaster, the government planned to build enough reactors to provide 50 percent of the country’s electricity. But after the disaster, Japan pledged to abandon nuclear power by the 2030s and replace it 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 a June 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.

According to the report, Japan has struggled to transition to green energy and it likely won’t meet its goals. The nation remains a top importer of oil, coal and natural gas, which 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 by far the safest power source in the world. According to a 2010 study by the World Health Organization, nuclear power is 1,889 times safer than coal and 1,133 times safer than wind.

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