Protests in Japan as Government announces nuclear plant reactivation

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By Bob Duncan
 
Angry protests are taking place in Japan after the Government announced its intention to reactivate nuclear power plants which were closed down after the Fukushima disaster.
 
Environmentalists joined with ordinary people as Japan prepares to restart some of the Nuclear power stations which were shut down in May to allow stress testing to be carried out.

Japan had relied on nuclear energy for about one third of its electricity needs before the disaster of 15 months ago at Fukushima when a tsunami destroyed all four reactors, leaking radioactive particles over a wide area.

Tens of thousands of local residents and workers have still been unable to return home as their neighbourhoods remain contaminated.  There is still no indication of when evacuees might return and it is reported that many of those who lost everything in the disaster have subsequently taken their own lives.

However, all 50 of Japan’s commercial nuclear reactors have been offline since May 5 for safety checks.  The government has been conducting simulation tests for restarting its nuclear reactors in response to public concerns over their safety in the wake of the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant last spring.

This has made Japan the first major economy to operate in the modern era without a nuclear component to their energy production.  Japan is currently nuclear free.  Its shortfall in electricity generating capacity is being made up by imports of expensive foreign fossil fuels, but this is seen as unsustainable, even in the short term.

The No. 3 reactor at the country’s Ohi Nuclear Power Plant will be activated on July 1 and start providing electricity to western Japan, which includes Osaka, Japan’s second biggest city, by July 4.

Ohi’s No. 4 reactor is also scheduled to resume operations by July 24.  The government says that the electricity supply will be short by 15% this summer if the plants are not restarted.

In the capital, shareholders for the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) voted to accept one trillion yen (US$12.6 billion) from the government to allow the effective nationalisation of the company.  Dozens of protestors gathered outside the TEPCO meeting calling for shareholders and investors to vote for a shift away from nuclear energy.

Elsewhere in the city, at least 10,000 people took to the streets in what was the largest anti-nuclear protest in Japan’s history.  One protester, Yoichi Kido, said: “restarting the nuclear reactors is the same as starting a war.  It’s the same as murder.”

In a statement, Greenpeace activist Ayako Sekine said: “Nuclear power has been disastrous for Japan’s environment, the health of its people and its economy.  Investors face a huge financial risk if they allow themselves to be tricked into believing this disaster is a one-off hiccup.”

TEPCO is facing a financial meltdown with huge compensation claims from residents and businesses in the wake of the Fukushima accident.  The estimated cost for compensation and the cleanup operation amounts to more than 100 billion yen (£800 million).

UK Government

The UK government is now one of very few who are contemplating the construction of new Nuclear Power plants.  It plans to divert subsidies from renewable projects towards the cost of building new nuclear plants, using controversial “contracts for difference” to guarantee high prices for companies who build and operate the reactors.

The Scottish government, conversely, has a policy of sanctioning no new nuclear power stations, and allowing existing plants to close once they have reached the end of their productive life.  They have also set the world’s most aggressive renewables targets, aiming to provide the equivalent of 100% of the country’s energy needs from renewable sources by 2020.

Alex Salmond’s SNP administration has insisted that Scotland’s renewable potential is vast and has the potential to generate tens of thousands of jobs and re-industrialise the nation.

Several other countries have adopted similar policies.  Austria was the first country to begin a nuclear phase-out and has been followed by Sweden, Italy, Belgium, and (most recently) Germany.  Austria and Spain have gone as far as to enact laws not to build new nuclear power stations.  Several other European countries have debated phase-outs.

Since the Fukushima disaster European public opinion has shifted and non-nuclear energy policies have gained new momentum, with even France now planning a rapid reduction of nuclear capacity.

The new French government, which currently relies on nuclear power for 75% of its electricity, wants to reduce this to 50% by 2025 with a greater focus on renewables.  There has also been talk of phasing out France’s nuclear power altogether within 20 or 30 years.

Speculation is now high that the French Government will order its giant state energy company EDF to divert billions of Euros, intended for the building new UK nuclear reactors, back into the French domestic sector.

Such a move would all but kill off the UK Government’s nuclear policy and would mirror moves by the German groups E.ON and RWE, which said in March that they had scrapped their UK nuclear new-build plans.