Friday, December 8

Japan bets on nuclear energy again: the crisis is more powerful than the trauma of Fukushima

Japan enters a new phase regarding nuclear energy. Before the Fukushima disaster in 2011, nuclear power accounted for more than 30% of the energy produced. Since then its use has been progressively decreasing, even to the benefit of other more polluting sources. Now, to deal with the crisis caused by Russia, Japan has announced a major change in trend with the nuclear.

Japan will reopen 9 nuclear reactors. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced today that he has asked his industry minister to reopen up to nine nuclear reactors so they can be operational this winter.

This movement comes in a convulsive period in Japan, after the parliamentary elections and after the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. As described by Kishida, the decision to go back to nuclear power is to face rising energy prices since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In their day they were referents. Fukushima changed everything. The accident forced to rethink the energy model of Japan, which even planned to reach 40% of all energy through its nuclear power plants. Since then, Japan has decommissioned a total of 21 reactors. In total, Japan has 54 nuclear reactors, but only four are currently operational.

As Nippon describes, only 10 nuclear reactors divided into six power plants have received the go-ahead. Some local governments have already taken the first steps to restart some of them, but there has been no significant progress. With the Prime Minister’s decision, the aim is to streamline the entire process and reach this winter up to 10% of energy generation through nuclear power.

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It is necessary to update the centrals. Plants such as the one in Onagawa, north of Fukushima, are being repaired for their start-up. Japan’s current plan is to upgrade and restart its plants, but most plants in the north of the country still have to comply. Japan’s problem is that 21 reactors have been decommissioned and the rest are very old.

Since 2015, six reactors have been reactivated, with the goal of reaching 12 before 2025 and 18 before 2030. Now, Japan’s new plan seems to accelerate these deadlines and move forward a decade.

Kishida reminisces about Abe. The current prime minister is the successor to Shinzo Abe and much of his political position coincides with that of the recently assassinated former prime minister. Abe was a strong proponent of nuclear power and in late February 2022 he went further, advocating for a possible Japanese nuclear program. “Japan is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but it should not treat discussions of the reality of how the world is kept safe as taboo,” he said.

For the moment Kishida has not followed this debate, but he has announced a major boost for nuclear energy in Japan. Troubled times that have led to firm decisions.

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