The End of an Era? Final Japanese Nuclear Power Plant to Shut Down Sunday

Damage at Fukushima Daiichi as seen on March 18, 2011. (photo: DigitalGlobe)

Before the massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan on March 11, 2011, about a third of the country’s electricity was supplied by the 54 nuclear power plants scattered throughout the country. In the intervening time, those nuclear reactors not directly damaged on March 11 have been shutting down for inspections and public opposition is preventing their re-start. The final plant remaining online, the number 3 reactor at the Tomari plant in Hokkaido, will be powered down late Saturday night into Sunday morning.

The Washington Post describes the political process by which the plants have been shut down:

The break from nuclear power is less a matter of policy than political paralysis. Japan’s central government has recommitted to nuclear power in the wake of last year’s triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi, but those authorities haven’t yet convinced host communities and provincial governors that nuclear power is necessary — or that a tarnished and yet-unreformed regulatory agency is up to the job of ensuring safety.

Because Japan depends on local consensus for its nuclear decisions, those maintenance checkups — mandated every 13 months — have turned into indefinite shutdowns, and resource-poor Japan has scrambled to import costlier fossil fuels to fill the energy void.

Before the Fukushima accident, Japan operated 54 commercial reactors, which accounted for about one-third of the country’s energy supply. But in the last year, 17 of those reactors were either damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami or shut down because of government request. Thirty-six others were shuttered after inspections and have not been restarted.

The New York Times has more on the political standoff: Continue reading

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