At the moment only three of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors remain online, and come April, there very well may be no nuclear plants running at all, and the impact on society here will remain all but invisible. This time last year, around 30% of Japan’s energy came from nuclear. Given this source of energy has disappeared virtually overnight and there have been no significant problems for society the question must be seriously asked: does Japan really need nuclear?
Only three out of fifty-four nuclear reactors are now operating in Japan Since Shimane Nuclear Reactor Unit 1 was stopped for scheduled maintenance on January 27, 2012, only three out of fifty-four nuclear reactors are now operating in Japan. Unless the Japanese government and electric power companies restart some of the nuclear reactors, Japan will be completely without nuclear energy in late April when Tomari Nuclear Reactor Unit 3 is stopped for maintenance. The following is a schedule for stopping the currently operating nuclear reactors for maintenance:
February 20, 2012: Takahama Unit 3 (Kansai Electric Power Company)
Late March 2012: Kashiwazaki Kariwa Unit 6 (Tokyo Electric Power Company)
Late April 2012: Tomari Unit 3 (Hokkaido Electric Power Company).
In response to this situation, Yukio Edano, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, announced that the government began making a plan to meet electricity demand during the summer of 2012 without operating a nuclear reactor or imposing an order to restrict electricity consumption. This announcement came after the government think tank, the Japan Institute of Energy Economics, estimated that electricity supply would be only 7% short of peak demand even in case of an unusually hot summer.
Another important factor that contributed to Edano’s announcement was the growing local opposition to restarting nuclear reactors. The government tried to use stress tests as a strategy to justify restarting reactors quickly. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, however, public opinion became critical of electric power companies, and local residents near nuclear power plants began demanding the expansion of safety agreements between their municipalities and power companies. As a result, it has become increasingly difficult for an electric power company to meet one of the requirements for restarting a nuclear reactor, a local municipality’s consent. After all, it is extremely problematic to try restarting a nuclear reactor when the cause of the Fukushima nuclear disaster remains unclear. At the negotiations between the government and NGOs on January 26, 2012,
the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency also confirmed that restart of a nuclear reactor was going to require consent from local municipalities and residents.
Lawsuit against restarts
On Februay 13, the first public hearing on a lawsuit filed by 612 plaintiffs from Hokkaido and elsewhere to decommission the three Tomari reactors, was held at the Sapporo District Court. It is the first lawsuit in Japan to dispute the future existence of nuclear reactors in operation since the March 11 accident at Fukushima.
The group of plaintiffs is represented by Yugo Ono, professor emeritus at Hokkaido University, and others, who argue that "the existence of the nuclear reactors itself violates the personal rights of residents." In the court hearing on Feb. 13, Hokkaido University professor Masuyo Tokita, one of the representatives of the plaintiffs' group, said, "Nuclear power generation is the most dangerous way of producing electricity in Japan, a leading earthquake country in the world. For people to spend their days at ease, nuclear reactors must be stopped."
A total of 1,704 people from across Japan, the largest number of plaintiffs in a pending nuclear-related suit, sued the government and the operator of the Genkai nuclear power plant in Saga Prefecture on January 31, demanding that all four reactors at the plant be halted. In the suit filed with the Saga District Court against the state and Kyushu Electric Power Co., the plaintiffs from Saga and 28 other prefectures assert the reactors are dangerous and make them feel insecure amid the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
They are also seeking compensation of 10,000 yen each per month covering the period from March 2011, when the crisis erupted at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi power plant, until Kyushu Electric suspends operation of the Genkai plant.
Another group of around 300 residents sued Kyushu Electric in already demanding that the utility suspend operation of the Genkai plant.
Nuclear free Japan approaching
The nuclear lobby, big business, and the Japanese government are pushing hard to restart reactors claiming it is for the health of the economy, but while excess power once helped Japan grow rapidly, nuclear has not saved Japan’s economy from decline, and it’s not going to save it now. By remaining wedded to nuclear the government will be simply playing a game of dice with Japan’s economic future, and the health and safety of its people. It should instead be using this moment of upheaval to end its unhealthy relationship with nuclear utilities like Tepco, and embrace energy solutions that will keep its people safe, help it stick to greenhouse gas reduction targets, and give its economy a huge boost with a green industry revolution.
The Fukushima disaster created a contamination crisis, but not an energy crisis. It kick-started an identity crisis, destroying Japan’s image as the poster child for a mythical clean and safe nuclear society, and turning it into yet another cautionary tale of the risks governments take on with atomic snake oil salesmen. But it’s not too late. With the remaining three reactors due to go into shutdown over the next month, a nuclear free summer approaches, and a nuclear free future awaits.
Thus, the worst scenario that the government and electric power companies feared is now becoming quite realistic: Japan may really go nuclear-free as of late April 2012.
This “worst scenario” for the government and electric power companies, however, also points to the possibility of moving toward sustainable society that does not rely on nuclear energy.
The day Tomari Unit 3 will be stopped is approaching. So is the day for nuclear-free Japan.
Lucky at Fukushima Daini
The Fukushima No. 2 (Daini) plant, on the border of Naraha and Tomioka towns in Fukushima Prefecture, was opened on February 10, to the media for the first time since the disaster. It is 12 kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant, which suffered several meltdowns. Both facilities are operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co.
Plant chief Naohiro Masuda, in charge of plant operations since the crisis, said that the reactors at No. 2 (4 BWR's, totalling 4,400 MW) were 'near meltdown'. "The No. 2 plant almost suffered the same fate as No. 1 [which led to a severe crisis]." The tsunami caused the No. 2 plant's seawater pumps, used to cool reactors, to fail. Of the plant's four reactors, three were in danger of meltdown. Luckily, one external high-voltage power line still functioned, allowing plant staff in the central control room to monitor data on internal reactor temperatures and water levels.
Masuda noted the timing of the disaster was also critical in saving the plant. "We were lucky it happened on a Friday afternoon [and not on a weekend]," he said. Masuda pointed out only 40 employees would have been at the plant if the earthquake had occurred in the evening or on a weekend. "[In that case] it would be have been difficult for us to deal with the disaster," he said. On March 11, about 2,000 employees worked to stabilize the reactors. Some employees connected 200-meter sections of cable, each weighing more than a ton, over a distance of nine kilometers. However, despite intense efforts by all employees, it took a long time to stabilize the reactors.
The Yomiuri Shimbun, 10 February 2012
Sources: Friends of the Earth Japan, News release 27 January 2012, Mainichi Daily News, 1 & 14 february 2012 / Greenpeace.org blogpost, 10 February 2012
Contact: Citizens' Nuclear Information Center (CNIC). Akebonobashi Co-op 2F-B, 8-5 Sumiyoshi-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 162-0065, Japan