” Japan has been pursuing a dream of nuclear energy since the 1960s.
The country’s first nuclear reactor was completed in 1965 and between then and 2011, Japan invested hundreds of billions of dollars into the industry.
Money is still being funnelled into the industry, but these days it is mostly just for upkeep of idle reactors.
When disaster struck the Fukushima nuclear plantin Japan in March 2011, there were 54 nuclear reactors operating in the country and generating about one third of Japan’s power.
But with the triple, reactor-core meltdown at Fukushima came concerns about nuclear power in other areas of Japan. The government of the day ordered an immediate review of the safety aspects of the remaining reactors.
Today, there are just four reactors in operation across Japan (although one is “paused” while a legal challenge is heard).
Eleven are in the process of being decommissioned — six of these are at Fukushima — and decisions are yet to be made about 42 other reactors.
Tom O’Sullivan, an energy sector analyst in Japan, said five or six other reactors should come back online in 2017, but there were localised protests to some of those planned restarts.
“Some of the polling that has been done indicates that 60-70 per cent of the Japanese people actually oppose the restarting of the reactors,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
In April 2016, a major earthquake struck Japan’s southern-most island of Kyushu.
An operating nuclear reactor was just 120 kilometres from the epicentre of the quake. Roads and bridges were damaged and landslides cut off access to some areas — aggravating the fears of local people about how they would evacuate if another nuclear disaster was to occur.
Future energy needs quesitioned
In the years to come, the Japanese Government has major decisions to make about the future of the nuclear industry. Nuclear reactors have a natural operating life of 40 years.
“The average age of the Japanese reactors is now close to 30 years, so most of them have only a remaining operating life of 10 years,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
“Once they start hitting the 40-year time limit, they’re going to have to write off some of the residual costs associated with them. Then of course you have the additional, significant issue of having to decommission them and the costs in that regard are very, very significant.”
The Government has had very little to say in recent months about its energy policy.
The most recent utterings of Prime Minister Abe were back in March — when Japan was marking the five-year anniversary of the nuclear disaster. He said his Government was aiming to achieve 20-22 per cent of energy needs met by nuclear by 2030.
Environmental group Greenpeace said that aim would be close to impossible to achieve.
“The reality is, they will never get to that 20 or 22 per cent. I think inside Government, there are factions that basically believe that maybe we can reach that target, but a more realistic assessment says maybe it will be a lot less,” Greenpeace nuclear spokesman Shaun Burnie said.
“I think the Japanese Government will be forced to change its energy policy. This cannot go on indefinitely. Nuclear utilities are unable to operate their reactors.” ”
by Rachel Mealey