Sep 03, 2013

    Japan on the way back to nuclear zero

    WORKERS switched off one of Japan's two working reactors yesterday, with the other set for shutdown later this month and no restarts in sight amid news of more leaks at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and continued public hostility to nuclear power.

    Kansai Electric Power started reducing generating power at its Unit No. 3 at the Oi plant in Fukui prefecture, western Japan.

    The reactor will be fully shut down by today in preparation for inspections legally mandated within 13 months of the start of commercial operations, a company spokesman said.

    It is one of only two units still generating power in Japan. The other reactor, Unit No. 4 at Oi, is to be switched off on Sept 15.

    It is not known when they will resume operations.

    The two reactors were restarted - despite public opposition - in July last year after passing safety tests, ending a brief period in which no atomic power was generated in Japan.

    Japan's nuclear industry, which once provided a third of the nation's power, has nearly come to a halt since a massive earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima plant in March 2011, causing reactor meltdowns.

    Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said yesterday that the government will take prompt, comprehensive steps to clean up the wrecked Fukushima plant, amid growing concerns about the plant operator's ability to handle the cleaning.

    Embattled Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, said over the weekend that radiation near a tank holding highly contaminated water at the plant had spiked 18-fold, to a level that could kill an exposed person in four hours.

    No new leak had been detected at the tank, but another leak was found at a pipe connecting two other tanks.

    Mr Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, said yesterday that Tepco cannot store huge amounts of coolant water at the plant indefinitely.

    He said that "it is unavoidable to dump or release the water into the sea" after it is purified to levels recognised as safe under international standards.

    Japanese officials fear that international attention on the Fukushima crisis could threaten Tokyo's bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games, a decision set to be made by the International Olympic Committee on Saturday in Buenos Aires.

    The Tokyo Metropolitan Government now carries the latest radiation data on its website, showing that radiation levels in the capital - some 230km from the stricken facility - are on a par with or lower than levels in London and New York.