Japan’s last running reactor – Headlines versus reality

The Vancouver Sun headline is “Japan rushes to restart reactors to avoid total shutdown”.  The article discusses the rush of the Japanese government to make sure that before the last operating reactor in the country is shut down in May, two others will be brought back on line to insure the grid is never without nuclear power.  Currently 53 or 54 reactors are down, and because Japanese nuclear policy has depended on local governments signing off on reactors operation, post Fukushima no local governments have been willing to say “yes” to restarting their reactors.  The reason given in this Reuters story for the rush to restart is that if the power grid is still operating without any reactors running, the populace will doubt the need for nuclear power.

But the “Rush” headline misses a number of other important stories, which are not making it to the North American media.  The Kyodo News reports that PM Noda assured the Japanese Diet on March 30th, that ”We will not push for restarting (the reactors) simply out of fears about power supply,”  This “promise” was made in response to the recent polls which that show that the public largely distrusts the government assessment of reactors’ safety and has concerns that Noda will disregard public opposition to restarting idled reactors.

Over 80,000 people have lost their homes and livelihood in the evacuation from the Fukushima meltdowns. Since this map was made, the voluntary 20 to 30 km zone have become mandatory.

Another poll of 900 respondents indicating distrust of government policies was reported in the Mainichi Daily News shows that 84% do not believe that the government’s stress tests on idled nuclear reactors are adequate barometers of safety.  In addition, a majority of respondents, 62%, oppose restarting reactors #3 and #4 at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, which is operated by Kansai Electric.  These are the same reactors the Vancouver Sun is reporting maybe the first to restart.

Part of the reason that the focus is on restarting these two reactors is that they are the only ones which have passed the post -Fukushima stress tests imposed by the soon to be closed Japanese Nuclear regulators NISA and NSC.  These regulators are being replaced because of their massive failures around Fukushima (and other nuclear industry scandals) but the new nuclear regulator NRA has failed to gain enabling legislation in the Japanese Diet, despite this agency having an April 1st starting date.

There is a tiny chance PM Noda will ignore his promise, run over the regional governors and break the long standing consensus policy to restart Oi 3 and 4  before the last reactor in Japan goes down for refueling on May 5th.  But what i think is more likely, is that on May 5th Japan will be nuclear free for the first time in decades as teh silver lining to the triple meltdown which has destroyed the lives of tens of thousands of people.   Japan will then go into a hot summer with nearly 30% of its electrical capacity down.  And the smart money is on there not being black outs due to increased use of renewables, natural gas and govenment conservation programs, proving that the rest of the industrial world can give up its nuclear addition as well.