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Sunday, 20 October 2019

Japan to be nuclear-free as last reactor switched off

The move will leave the world's third largest economy without atomic energy for the second time since the Fukushima crisis erupted in March 2011

AFP , Sunday 15 Sep 2013
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, accompanied by Economy Minister Akira Amari, left, and Finance Minister Taro Aso, front row seated second right, speaks at a meeting by Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy at Prime Minister's Official Residence in Tokyo Friday, Sept. 13, 2013 (Photo: AP)
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Japan is scheduled to switch off its last working nuclear reactor later Sunday for an inspection with no immediate plan for restart amid high public hostility towards atomic power.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has openly supported the use of nuclear energy, but the public has remained largely opposed to it for fear of possible serious accidents following the world's worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

Kansai Electric Power will gradually take offline the No. 4 reactor at its Oi nuclear plant in Fukui prefecture in western Japan.

The work is scheduled to start Sunday evening, with the reactor expected to stop power generation after several hours before coming to a complete stop early Monday, according to the utility.

Japan previously was without any nuclear energy in May 2012, when all of the country's 50 commercial reactors had stopped for scheduled checkups, with utilities unable to restart them due to public opposition.

The move will leave the world's third largest economy without atomic energy for the second time since the Fukushima crisis erupted in March 2011.

It was the first time in more than four decades that Japan was without nuclear power.

Over the summer, utilities have submitted applications to restart their reactors with the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which has significantly upgraded Japan's nuclear safety standards since the Fukushima crisis.

Central government and utilities will seek consent from local government and communities hosting nuclear plants before any reactor restarts.

The No. 3 reactor at the Ikata nuclear plant in Ehime prefecture in the southwestern Shikoku region may come back online early next year, as the Abe government backs nuclear energy, the conservative Sankei Shimbun said.

The influential Asahi Shimbun also said the reactor at Ikata might resume operation in "the coming winter".

Anti-nuclear campaigner Greenpeace Japan said the country must use the opportunity of being without nuclear power to focus on promoting renewable energy.

"Having zero running nuclear reactors is a proof that we do not need nuclear plants," Junichi Sato, executive director of the environmental group in Japan, said in a statement issued Friday.

He urged the government not to rush to restart reactors and to focus on containing the ongoing atomic crisis in Fukushima, and helping tens of thousands of people who had to leave their communities near the crippled plant to avoid exposure to radiation.

"Going without nuclear energy for the second time is a major opportunity for Japan to become a leading nation for renewable energy," he said.

Last year, government officials and utilities voiced concerns that Japan could experience major blackouts without nuclear power, particularly in the western region that relied heavily on nuclear energy.

Their fears proved to be unfounded but the government gave approval for Kansai Electric to restart No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Oi plant, arguing that nuclear energy was necessary to meet increased electricity demand during the winter.

The reactors were reactivated in July 2012 and resumed full commercial operation the following month, while other reactors have remained idle all along.

Japan has turned to pricey fossil-fuel alternatives to fill the gap left by the shutdown of atomic plants, which had supplied about one-third of the resource-poor nation's electricity before the Fukushima disaster.

Utilities have raised power fees to cover increased fuel costs for thermal plants while reactors remain offline.

Radiation was spread over homes and farmland in a large area of northern Japan when the massive tsunami swamped cooling systems at Fukushima Daiichi on March 11, 2011.No one is officially recorded as having died as a direct result of the meltdowns at Fukushima, but tens of thousands of people were evacuated and many remain so, with some areas expected to be uninhabitable for decades.

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