Japan abandons nuclear development plans as Fukushima crisis goes on

Japan will abandon plans to expand its nuclear power industry and instead focus on renewable energy, Prime Minister, Naoto Kan announced May 11 as Japan marked two months since the devastating earthquake and tsunami. As workers continued efforts to bring the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant under control, Kan said he would “start from scratch” on an energy policy that initially foresaw nuclear meeting more than 50% of Japan’s energy needs by 2030. Japan, whose 54 reactors now provide 30% of its electricity, had planned to build at least 14 new reactors over the next 20 years. “I think it is necessary to move in the direction of promoting natural energy and renewable energy such as wind, solar and biomass,” Kan said. Renewables now make up 20% of Japan’s overall supply.

The announcement comes days after Kan ordered the closure of the Hamaoka nuclear plant (Shizuoka prefecture, Tōkai sub-region, Chūbu region), which sits on an active fault line, while a new tsunami wall is built. The Chubu Electric Power Co. shut the plant after Kan warned that an earthquake of an 87% likelihood that a magnitude 8.0 or higher quake could strike the central Chūbu region, just down the coast from Tokyo, sometime within 30 years. The company had resisted pressure from thousands of protesters. Kan’s order follows weeks of public protests against nuclear power—the largest demonstrations in Japan in 40 years in the weeks after the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima reactors, owned by the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (The Guardian, NPR, May 11; Washington Times, May 9)

Over the weekend, the government announced that it will let residents who evacuated from the village of Kawauchi near the crippled Fukushima plant to briefly return to their home to pick up personal belongings on May 10. Kawauchi is one of the nine towns and villages designated by the government in late April as within a legally binding evacuation zone covering a 20-kilometer radius from the plant. The government apparently selected Kawauchi first for the visitation program because of its small size, which should make it easier to manage. (Japan Times, May 8)

While Fukushima has disappeared from international headlines, the plant continues to emit radioactivity. Tokyo Electric Power Co. said May 12 it has detected another leak of highly contaminated radioactive water into the sea near the plant, and is able to stop the flow. (Kyodo, May 12)

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  1. TEPCO officially admits “meltdown” at Fukushima
    Reactor No. 1 at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant has likely suffered a partial meltdown of its core, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. said May 12. In response to a question at a press conference on whether the situation could be described a “meltdown,” TEPCO spokesman Junichi Matsumoto said that if the definition is that the fuel rods melt and lose their shape, “that is fine.” TEPCO has previously said more than 50% of the reactor’s fuel rods have been damaged. But Matsumoto said the crisis hasn’t reached the most severe point, where the fuel rods melt through the containment vessels and release massive amounts of radioactive material to the outside. The rods still appear contained inside the vessels—although new investigations have shown the vessels may be damaged and leaking water, he said. (Dow Jones, May 12)