Sendai nuclear plant in southern Japan is first to begin operation since 2011 Fukushima meltdowns, despite anti-nuclear protests
Police officers guard the gate of the Sendai nuclear power plant as protesters rally against the restarting of the reactor. Photograph: Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images
A power plant operator in southern Japan has restarted a reactor, the first to begin operating under new safety requirements following the Fukushima disaster.
Kyushu Electric Power Co. said on Tuesday it had restarted the No. 1 reactor at its Sendai nuclear plant as planned.
The restart marks Japan’s return to nuclear energy four-and-half-years after the 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan following an earthquake and tsunami.
The national broadcaster NHK showed plant workers in the control room as they turned the reactor back on. Tomomitsu Sakata, a spokesman for Kyushu Electric Power, said the reactor was put back online as planned without any problems.
The disaster displaced more than 100,000 people due to radioactive contamination in the area and spurred a national debate over this resource-scarce country’s reliance on nuclear power.
Former prime minister Naoto Kan speaks to protesters gathered at the main gate of the Sendai nuclear power plant. Photograph: The Asahi Shimbun/via Getty Images
A majority of Japanese people oppose the return to nuclear energy. Dozens of protesters, including ex-prime minister Naoto Kan, who was in office at the time of the disaster and has become an outspoken critic of nuclear power, were gathered outside the plant as police stood guard.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority affirmed the safety of the Sendai reactor and another one at the plant last September under stricter safety rules imposed after the 2011 accident.
The Sendai No. 1 reactor is scheduled to start generating power on Friday and to reach full capacity next month. The second Sendai reactor is due to restart in October.
Koichi Miyazawa, Japan’s industry minister, said on Tuesday that the government would “put safety first” in resuming use of nuclear power.
All of Japan’s 43 workable reactors have been shut for the last two years pending safety checks. To offset the shortfall in power output, the country ramped up imports of oil and gas and fired up more thermal power plants, slowing progress toward reducing its emissions of greenhouse gases.
Prime minister Shinzo Abe has sought to have the reactors restarted as soon as possible to help reduce costly reliance on imported oil and gas and alleviate the financial burden on utilities of maintaining the idled plants.
“There are very strong vested interests to reopen nuclear reactors. Accepting them as permanently closed would have financial implications that would be hard to manage,” said Tomas Kaberger, chairman of the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation.
Utilities are seeking approvals to restart 23 reactors, including the other Sendai reactor.
The government has set a goal to have nuclear power meet more than 20% of Japan’s energy needs by 2030, despite the lingering troubles at the Fukushima plant, which is plagued by massive flows of contaminated water leaking from its reactors.
Removal of the melted fuel at the plant – the most challenging part of the 30-to-40-year process of shutting it down permanently – will begin only in 2022.
Source: The Guardian