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The Japanese government just shut down the only nuclear reactor in the country that was still up and running after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Kansai Electric Power Co’s Ohi No.4 reactor was disconnected from the power grid and shut down for planned maintenance early Monday morning. It’s unclear when and if any of the 50 nuclear reactors across the country will be restarted.

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Since the disaster in March 2011, Japan has been gradually closing down its nuclear power plants for scheduled maintenance or to address safety concerns. Although a dozen nuclear plants have applied to reopen their facilities this year, so far the government has not approved any of the requests. Industry insiders are estimating that facilities may be allowed to restart as early as December, or as late as mid-2014.

While polls show the majority of Japanese citizens want to end the country’s reliance on nuclear power, it’s unlikely the country will be able to afford to abandon it entirely. Nuclear reactors used to provide nearly a third of the country’s electricity, and since shutting them down, Japan has suffered record trade deficits due to the cost of importing enough oil, gas, and coal to keep the power grid online.

Still, with the recent revelations of ongoing radiation leaks at Fukushima, it’s hard to blame the Japanese people for wanting to pull the plug on nuclear power completely.  This is the second time since 2011 that all of Japan’s nuclear plants have been offline. Perhaps the best long-term solution for Japan will be to focus on building up the infrastructure for more renewable energy, reducing costly fossil fuel imports without compromising safety.

Via Reuters