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15 Sep, 2013 02:34

Japan shuts down last nuclear reactor

Japan shuts down last nuclear reactor

Thirty months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan is set to become - at least temporarily - a nuclear power free country by shutting down the last of its 50 atomic reactors.

Kansai Electric Power Co's 1,180 MW Ohi No.4 reactor in Fukui Prefecture is set to be disconnected from the power grid on September 15 and will be shut down indefinitely for maintenance and inspection.

This will be the first time Japan is without nuclear power since July 2012. Prior to the earthquake and tsunami that destroyed the Fukushima power plant in March 2011, Japan generated roughly 30% of its electrical power from nuclear energy. Japan is turning to fossil-fuel alternatives to fill the gap.

"Safety is important, but if you waste time, that too has an effect on safety. The Fukui nuclear power plant sites have a long history and respond to risks. My position is therefore different from other prefectural governors,"
said Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa as Japan was in the process of deciding which reactors were safe to restart based on new nuclear regulations introduced in July.

A number of nuclear power operators applied in July to reopen under new rules adopted after the Fukushima disaster. However gaining approvals will not be easy as industry regulator are still worried about the safety concerns, following continuing contamination of ground water from the leaking water storage tanks at Fukushima. Industry projections for a re-start vary from as early as December to mid-2014. Shikoku Electric Power's Ikata plant, Kyushu Electric's Sendai plant and Hokkaido Electric's Tomari plant are among those likely to be the first to re-start.

"The argument that no nuclear power dents the economy would be myopic, considering that if by mistake we had another tragedy like Fukushima, Japan would suffer from further collateral damage and lose global trust,"
Tetsunari Iida, head of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies told Reuters.

The catastrophe of March 11, 2011, caused the meltdown of nuclear fuel rods at three of the plant’s reactors, leading to a contamination of air and sea, as well as crippling the region’s agriculture and fishing activities, gravely damaging the economy for years to come. On top of this, costs required for the clean-up, as well as to sustain the nation’s needs and compensation pay-outs, are projected to be in the billions – a fact that has recently caused the Japanese government to step in and start contributing money to TEPCO’s efforts.