January 27, 2012

Since Shimane Nuclear Reactor Unit 1 was stopped for scheduled maintenance on January 27, 2012, only three out of fifty-four nuclear reactors are now operating in Japan. Unless the Japanese government and electric power companies restart some of the nuclear reactors, Japan will be completely without nuclear energy in late April when Tomari Nuclear Reactor Unit 3 is stopped for maintenance. The following is a schedule for stopping the currently operating nuclear reactors for maintenance:

February 20, 2012: Takahama Unit 3 (Kansai Electric Power Company)
Late March 2012: Kashiwazaki Kariwa Unit 6 (Tokyo Electric Power Company)
Late April 2012: Tomari Unit 3 (Hokkaido Electric Power Company).

In response to this situation, Yukio Edano, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, announced that the government began making a plan to meet electricity demand during the summer of 2012 without operating a nuclear reactor or imposing an order to restrict electricity consumption. This announcement came after the government think tank, the Japan Institute of Energy Economics, estimated that electricity supply would be only 7% short of peak demand even in case of an unusually hot summer.

Another important factor that contributed to Edano’s announcement was the growing local opposition to restarting nuclear reactors. The government tried to use stress tests as a strategy to justify restarting reactors quickly. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, however, public opinion became critical of electric power companies, and local residents near nuclear power plants began demanding the expansion of safety agreements between their municipalities and power companies. As a result, it has become increasingly difficult for an electric power company to meet one of the requirements for restarting a nuclear reactor, a local municipality’s consent. After all, it is extremely problematic to try restarting a nuclear reactor when the cause of the Fukushima nuclear disaster remains unclear. *

Thus, the worst scenario that the government and electric power companies feared is now becoming quite realistic: Japan may really go nuclear-free as of late April 2012.

This “worst scenario” for the government and electric power companies, however, also points to the possibility of moving toward sustainable society that does not rely on nuclear energy.

The day Tomari Unit 3 will be stopped is approaching. So is the day for nuclear-free Japan.

* At the negotiations between the government and NGOs on January 26, 2012, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency also confirmed that restart of a nuclear reactor was going to require consent from local municipalities and residents. For a summary report of the negotiations, go to the web page of Friends of the Earth Japan (http://www.foejapan.org/energy/evt/120126.html).

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