Japan to be without nuclear power for 2nd time since Fukushima crisis
TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan's sole operating reactor is set to be taken offline for routine checkups later Sunday, leaving the country with no nuclear power supply for the second time following the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi complex disaster.
The halting of the No. 4 reactor at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Oi plant in Fukui Prefecture in western Japan comes as Japan is in the process of deciding which reactors are safe to restart based on new nuclear regulations introduced in July.
All of the country's 50 commercial reactors will likely remain offline at least until the end of this year, with the safety assessments by nuclear regulators and the procedures for winning local approval for restarts expected to take time.
Public concern that a lack of nuclear power may create serious power shortages appears to have diminished in the absence of large-scale blackouts despite the halt of most reactors. But households and businesses have been affected by electricity rate hikes resorted to by many utilities to cover fuel costs for thermal power generation.
Before the nuclear crisis, triggered by a huge earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, nuclear power supplied about 30 percent of Japan's total electricity.
Amid heightened concerns over the safety of nuclear power in the quake-prone country, Japan's nuclear power supply dropped to zero for the first time in more than 40 years for a two-month period from May last year, ending when the government allowed the restart of the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi plant.
No other reactors have been restarted since and routine checkups for the No. 3 unit commenced Sept. 2 ahead of those for the No. 4 unit. Nuclear reactors in Japan are required to undergo periodic inspections every 13 months.
Currently, a dozen reactors, including the Oi plant's Nos. 3 and 4 units, are waiting to be confirmed safe by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government, in its efforts to boost the economy, has made clear that nuclear power will continue to play a key role in meeting energy demand.
But with many opinion polls showing that a majority is against rebooting reactors, the government has been evasive on sensitive issues such as how many reactors should be brought back online or what kind of role it will play in gaining local consent for reactor resumptions.
Cleaning up Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi complex will also remain a huge challenge for decades to come, with melted fuel remaining inside three reactors at the plant and radioactive water increasing daily as a result of continuing water injections to keep the fuel cool.
September 15, 2013(Mainichi Japan)