Japan is poised to fire up its idle nuclear reactors, as Tokyo leaps a major hurdle to bring its mothballed nuclear sector back online after the Fukushima disaster.
Three dormant, 40-year-old Japanese nuclear reactors were approved to resume operations on Wednesday, overturning policies adopted after the 2011 Fukushima catastrophe with major ramifications for the energy sector.
The move, which was widely reported by Japanese media, comes after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced last week that Japan would slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 46% from 2013 levels by 2030.
That was a massive increase over the 26% cut Japan had announced in 2015 and is also a far closer horizon than the “carbon neutral by 2050” goal Suga set last year, which had drawn criticism as being too little, too late from the world’s fifth-largest emitter.
More broadly, the development signals what many had considered inevitable: The restart of dormant elements of Japan’s nuclear energy program a decade after the Fukushima disaster forced Tokyo to hit the kill switch.
Speaking to reporters in Tokyo, industry minister Hiroshi Kajiyama welcomed Sugimoto’s decision, calling the restarts “a big plus to our promotion of carbon neutrality.
Regarding the safety of the aging reactors, Kajiyama stressed the facilities have undergone “strict examinations” by the regulatory body before being given the go-ahead.
Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority gave approval in 2016 for the three units to operate beyond the 40-year limit, but a series of local political consents were required. All were delivered this year.
In crisis-control mode in the wake of the earthquake-tsunami-meltdown disaster, Tokyo shut down reactors across the country.
The three nuclear reactors on the Sea of Japan coast will become the first in the country to operate beyond the 40-year limit after a local governor consented to their restarts.
The rebooting of the No. 3 unit at the Mihama plant and the Nos. 1-2 reactors at the Takahama plant, both in Fukui Prefecture and idle since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, will come as the country seeks to meet its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 with continued reliance on atomic power.
The mayors of Mihama and Takahama gave their thumbs up in February. Subsequently, Fukui’s prefectural assembly gave the decision the nod last Friday. Tokyo appeared to have given Sugimoto the final prod.
In terms of regulations adopted after 2011, reactor age was a key issue and remains central to Japan’s nuclear dilemma.
Energy-hungry Japan – which has virtually no native supplies of oil or gas, but needs ample power to feed its vast manufacturing base – operated nuclear 54 reactors before the catastrophe struck.
Asia Times / ABC Flash-Point News 2021.