Japan: nuclear reactor damaged in 2011 authorized to restart

Tohoku Electric Power is aiming at a restart in March 2023

A reactor at a nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan became the first among those damaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami to be granted final restart approval on Wednesday, with support from regional authorities.

Reactor number 2 at the Onagawa power plant, located 340 kilometers north of Tokyo, had already been cleared for restart by nuclear safety authorities after complying with new safety standards imposed after the Fukushima disaster on March 11, 2011. But today it becomes the first reactor affected by the disaster to obtain the decisive green light from the local authorities for its restart, after the approval of the governor of Miyagi province, Yoshihiro Murai.

A real restart in 2023

All of Japan’s nuclear power plants were closed after the Fukushima nuclear accident and most of them are still shut down today. However, the government has been pressing for years to put several of them back into service, especially since the end of October, setting a carbon neutrality target for the country by 2050, which seems difficult to achieve without increasing the part of nuclear.

“Due to the closure of nuclear power plants, Japan depends more and more on thermal energy using fossil fuels,” Yoshihiro Murai told reporters. “There is concern about increasing CO2 emissions” and “we cannot expect to suddenly expand the use of safe and clean renewables” to meet demand, he added.

The very resistant population

However, it will take some time before the Onagawa plant is brought back into service. According to the daily business Nikkei, the plant’s operator, Tohoku Electric Power, is aiming at a restart in March 2023, after taking additional safety measures.

Traumatized by the Fukushima accident, Japanese public opinion also remains very hostile to the revival of nuclear power in the country. According to the public broadcaster NHK, 16 reactors at nine nuclear power plants in the country are currently meeting the new safety standards established after the 2011 disaster. Of these 16 reactors, two were damaged in 2011, including the number 2 of the nuclear power plant Onagawa. On the other hand, the reactors of the two nuclear power plants of Fukushima, Daiichi and Daini, the most affected by the earthquake and the tsunami, must be dismantled after pharaonic work over several decades.

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