Japan has hemmed and hawed about closing its nuclear reactors after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. At first there was talk of closing down all reactors, but the motion was whittled down to affect just those that fail rigorous safety testing, and finally none at all. A panel of seismic experts just announced that one of Japan’s oldest reactors sits on a highly earthquake-prone site and should be shuttered permanently – and the government is taking the first steps towards shutting it down.
Nuclear power plants across the country were taken offline after the Fukushima disaster, which has forced the country to import fossil fuels, nudging the economy into a deficit. Right now, two of the country’s 50 reactors have been brought back online, with others eagerly awaiting their own turn. Historically, regulation has used an easy hand, so when a group of seismologists advised Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) that the Tsuruga nuclear plant is unsafe to operate, it sent ripples throughout the industry. With five other reactors under review, it sends a signal to nuclear plants that it is no longer business as usual.
The NRA is expected to issue a ruling that declares the Tsuruga plant unfit for operation, and plant operators are scrambling to demand a recount. Japan Atomic Power Co., which operates the plant, issued a statement asking that the data be reviewed and re-examined before a determination is made. But the NRA, which was created as a result of concerns that the nuclear industry and regulators were a little too cozy, says that it is “really just a matter of luck that there hasn’t been an accident.” If the plant is closed, it will be the most forceful step taken in the wake of the disaster and could spell change on the horizon for the country’s nuclear power structure.
images from Wikimedia