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In Japan, no return to nuclear power any time soon, despite loud voices wanting this,

Nuclear Power’s Growing Fan Base in Japan Faces a Reality Check By Tsuyoshi Inajima and Shoko Oda, 6 April 2022,   Voices calling for Japan to ramp up its use of nuclear power are getting louder, but a rapid return is unlikely even as the nation faces another possible energy crunch this summer. 

The global power crisis is causing electricity bills to surge in Japan, while war in Ukraine is pressuring the country to seek alternatives to Russian energy. The fragility of the nation’s power grid was exposed last month when the one-two punch of a strong quake and frigid weather nearly delivered a blackout to Tokyo.

With few resources available to build capacity, and the threat of another power shortage looming with the return of hot, humid weather, lawmakers from both the ruling party and opposition are calling for a quick restart to reactors. Public support is also growing, as a recent survey showed a narrow majority in Japan now support turning idled plants back online

But a web of red-tape governing nuclear reactors born from the Fukushima nuclear disaster 11 years ago means that resuming operations can’t speed up, no matter the political pressure.

“If the Nuclear Regulation Authority approves nuclear reactor restarts based strictly on scientific findings, and not political decisions, then the current pace won’t change anytime soon,” said Reiji Ogino, an analyst at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities Co.

Japan’s NRA oversees the restart protocols of the country’s remaining 33 operable nuclear reactors. Ever since Japan turned its fleet of 54 reactors offline after the 2011 disaster, only 10 have restarted under the new rules that ensure the units are safe. 

“The NRA is restarting nuclear reactors at a slower pace than everyone had expected,” Ogino said. 

That’s putting Japan’s power grid under more strain, which nearly caused the blackout in Tokyo last month. Thermal power plants were knocked out by a magnitude 7.4 earthquake, followed by a blast of cold weather that boosted power demand, threatening outages in the nation’s biggest city. While Tokyo managed to prevent a disaster, the situation could repeat when summer demand spikes as residents turn on their air conditioners. 

Seven nuclear power units, while being cleared by the NRA, have yet to finish additional construction work needed to restart. “It’s unlikely that these units will restart before the upcoming peak summer season,” Ogino said. 

Syusaku Nishikawa, an analyst at Daiwa Securities Co., forecasts most of the seven reactors won’t resume operations until October next year at the earliest.

One way to speed up the process would be to shift nuclear authority back to the government. Before the independent NRA was created on the back of the Fukushima disaster, the authority existed under Japan’s trade ministry, which had actively pushed for using more atomic power but at the cost of cutting corners. Passing that power back isn’t expected anytime soon, and would be highly controversial.

“Someone has to take responsibility for safety” should the rules change and nuclear power plants that haven’t met standards are allowed to operate, said Nishikawa. “There’s a lot of difficulty in making that political decision.”

April 7, 2022 - Posted by | Japan, politics

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