Energy

It Looks Like Japan Will Reactivate The Fukushima Nuclear Reactor

(Shutterstock/Chuong Vu)

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter

Plans to restart the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan got a major boost Wednesday after a local politician who vehemently opposed the plan declined to run for reelection.

Japanese laws do not require utilities to obtain approval from local officials before reactivating power systems, but it is the expected practice. The shares of Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc.’s (TEPCO), which owns the reactors, rose by a whopping 12 percent on the news Niigata prefecture Gov. Hirohiko Izumida was not seeking re-election.

TEPCO expects to boost profits by $97 million a month for each reactor it restarts.

“The next Niigata governor will likely not make as many relentless demands as Izumida,” Hidetoshi Shioda, a Japanese nuclear power analyst, told OilPrice.com.

In 2011, the Fukushima reactor melted down after being struck by an enormous earthquake and tsunami, causing radiation leaks. No deaths or cases of radiation sickness were caused by the incident, but 100,000 citizens were evacuated from the area, according to the World Nuclear Association. Prior to the disaster, the government planned to build enough reactors to provide 50 percent of the country’s electricity.

Plans to restart the reactor effectively end Japan’s previous pledge to abandon nuclear power by the 2030s. They promised to replace nuclear power with wind or solar power, but this caused the price of electricity to rise by 20 percent. Japan’s 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.

The New York Times reported Monday that the Japanese government has funded the construction of a 100 foot high $320 million block of man-made permafrost around the Fukushima reactor to prevent any potentially radioactive water from leaking into the Pacific Ocean.

Nuclear power provided 29 percent of Japan’s total electricity 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 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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