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Tokyo mulls return to nuclear power

Updated: 2012-03-13 07:14
By Zhang Yunbi in Fukushima, Japan ( China Daily)

Tokyo is considering an early and safe restart of nuclear powerhouses amid calls to remodel Japan's energy sector.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said he hopes to discuss the issue with prefectural legislators. "The safety issue (of nuclear powerhouses) is under discussion and will be explained to local governments," he said on Sunday.

A 9.0-magnitude earthquake on March 11, 2011, triggered a tsunami that flooded the coastal Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in northeast Japan. A nuclear accident occurred after cooling devices inside the plant malfunctioned, sending three reactors into meltdown. The nuclear crisis was the second-worst on record since Chernobyl in 1986.

Top policymakers including Noda have reiterated the determination to decrease Japan's reliance on nuclear powerhouses.

Since the major earthquake and tsunami a year ago, Japan's energy sources have experienced a considerable shift. In the years before the disaster, nuclear reactors accounted for around 30 percent of Japan's power supply.

That figure dropped to around 5 percent by the end of last year due to a series of State-ordered shutdowns, major inspections and overhauls.

Protests broke out on Sunday, the one-year anniversary of the disaster, in Tokyo and Fukushima city amid a year-long public objection to restarting nuclear power plants.

"The quake and tsunami were unexpected catastrophes, but the accident was triggered by human error," Kirihiki Kanouya, a representative for families of the Fukushima victims, told China Daily at an anniversary ceremony.

Power shortages

All but two of the 54 nuclear powerhouses in Japan have been shutdown - a result of Tokyo's toughened grip on civil nuclear industry and safety issues.

The reactor shutdowns led to power supply shortages and nationwide campaigns to reduce energy needs.

Major power manufacturers, including TEPCO, have been asked to provide daily updates of the percentage of electricity saved by their own grids and clients. A hotline was opened by the government to give the public access to suggestions for ways to save power.

The Noda cabinet gradually eased its grip on nuclear plants and raised the possibility of resuming nuclear powerhouses on the condition of guaranteed safety.

Zhao Chengkun, vice-director-general of the China Nuclear Energy Association, told China Daily that Tokyo's drive to restart nuclear power plants "stems partly from the pressure to supply power".

"To totally abandon nuclear power is not a realistic way to solve current problems, and Tokyo need to beef up research, experiments and evaluations before the resumption," he said.

A group of Japanese citizens said they would file a lawsuit on Monday to prevent the restart of a nuclear power plant.

The group of 259 citizens was to file the suit in Osaka District Court, seeking an injunction that would block the reopening of utility Kansai Electric's nuclear power plants Oi Unit 3 and 4 in central Fukui prefecture.

Kiyoko Shimada, a member of the group organizing the lawsuit, told AFP that the Oi plants "are near active faults and some experts say the plants' quake resistance is not sufficient".

The Japanese government is reportedly planning to approve the restart of the Oi plants as early as this month.

Of the 54 Japanese nuclear reactors, only one has installed vents that are able to prevent the hydrogen explosions that escalated the crisis last spring. And among the 52 reactors currently shut down, none has passed a new regime of safety checks the Japanese authorities put in place after the nuclear crisis.

 REPORTER'S LOG   Zhang Yunbi


Visitors flock to plant despite risk

An unexpected heavy snow blanketed Fukushima on Saturday and Sunday, providing a calm on city streets that had been swarming with media.

"It is much colder today than a year ago," a local prefectural media affairs official told China Daily. He said it was sunny on the morning of March 11, 2011, when the earthquake and tsunami struck.

The 20 km "no-go zone" around the plant established by the Japanese government has become a hot topic among visitors to Fukushima.

Despite concerns over radiation, reporters and tourists continue to visit the checkpoints surrounding the plant. Police officers and volunteers guard the entrances.

"So you are with the press, right?" a policemen with the Osaka police department asked me.

As we chatted, a bus carrying employees from the plant drove by. They were dressed in white protective uniforms.

TEPCO, the owner of the plant, signed a contract with J-Village, an adjacent stadium near to the "no-go" zone, to provide lodging and catering for employees who continued to commute to the plant after the accident.

The area around the stadium was calm. Employees wearing green uniforms carried processed food into the guarded zone. Visitors were restricted from entering the inner section of the residential area.

Stadium personnel and TEPCO officials closely monitored visitors who brought cameras to the area. When they saw one of our photographers secretly filming, they asked us to stop.

As for Fukushima, no news is good news.

Wang Chenyan in Fukushima and Hu Yinan in Beijing contributed to this story.

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