The catastrophe wrecked by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami forced 160,000 people from their homes and left many in Japan wary of atomic energy. So much so that by 2013 all nuclear reactors in the country had been taken offline. But today, under what Prime Minister Shinzo Abe refers to as the “world’s most stringent regulation standards,” a nuclear reactor in Sendai will be switched on, despite polls showing the majority of Japanese residents oppose the move.
Mr. Abe’s rationale for restarting the nuclear reactor at Sendai is one of reducing Japan’s dependence on imported energy. Prior to the 2011 disaster, nuclear power accounted for 30 percent of Japan’s power supply, but as the events at Fukushima Daiichi unfolded, nuclear reactors across the country were taken offline. As a result, Japan began importing record amounts of natural gas, and now depends on gas, coal and oil for 90 percent of all energy needs.
In response, under Mr. Abe, the energy industry has pushed for a return to domestic energy sources, calling for nuclear to account for 22 percent of power by 2030. The No. 1 reactor at the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant is one of just five of Japan’s 43 functional nuclear reactors to have been approved for operation under what Mr. Abe claims are the world’s highest safety standards. With the reactor switched on it will begin producing energy on August 14, and will be working at full capacity by the beginning of September.
But the government’s assurances of stringent safety standards have done little to assuage the fears of the Japanese populous. Crowds have reportedly gathered around the Sendai Power Plant to protest the restarting of the reactor, and engineers have warned that as the equipment has idled since May 2011, there is a risk of failures and setbacks.
Additionally, one former worker at a nuclear plant equipment maker, 79-year-old Shouhei Nomura, expressed to Reuters concerns the government has failed to develop appropriate plans in the event of a future nuclear disaster: “You will need to change where you evacuate to depending on the direction of the wind. The current evacuation plan is nonsense.”