Japan retreats from nuclear power phase-out

Japan’s cabinet on Sept. 19 failed to approve recommendations of a special government-appointed panel to phase out nuclear power by 2040, in a move openly portrayed in the country’s media as a capitulation to pro-nuclear businesses interests. The panel had called for a 40-year limit on the lifespan of nuclear power plants, no new plant construction, and no expansion of existing nuclear power facilities. The cabinet decision came on the same day that Japan launched a new body to oversee the industry, the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which replaces the existing Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. But critics say the new agency lacks any greater powers than the old one, and protest that its head, Shunichi Tanaka, who oversaw decontamination efforts at Fukushima, is a nuclear industry insider. 

After six weeks of being completely nuclear-free, Japan in early July returned to atomic generation with the restart of the Kansai Electric Power Company’s Ohi (also rendered Ōi) nuclear power plant—despite widespread protests. Ohi units 3 and 4, in Fukui prefecture, are now Japan’s only operating reactors. Both the city and prefecture of Osaka, major consumer of the power generated at Ohi, have requested they be shut down. Before the restart, Japan had been in third place worldwide for the number of functioning nuclear reactors, with 55—after the US with 104, and France with 58. (Daily Yomiuri, Power Engineering, Sept. 21; BBC News, APDaily Yomiuri, Himalayan Times, Kathmandu, Sept. 19; Environment News Service, Kyodo, Sept. 14; Japan Daily Press, Sept. 4)

  1. Court rules against restarting Ohi reactors

    A Japanese court on May 21 ordered the operator of the Ohi nuclear power plant not to restart 2 of its reactors, citing insufficient safety measures. The facility's no. 3 and 4 reactors were shut down for inspections last September. Local residents filed a lawsuit to keep the reactors offline, asserting that operator's estimate of earthquake risk is too small, and the reactors lack sufficient cooling systems. Presiding judge Hideaki Higuchi of the Fukui District court agreed, finding that the earthquake estimate at the plant is too optimistic and not reliable. Operator Kansai Electric Power Company insists that no safety problems exist, and pledges to appeal. (NHK)