Some two weeks after a “pro-nuclear” victory in the Tokyo gubernatorial elections, Japan’s nuclear regulator has indicated that it may be close to a decision on whether one or more reactors are safe enough to consider re-starting.
The Japanese public remains divided over the nuclear role in the country’s energy equation following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that led to the Fukushima meltdown, but the defeat of anti-nuclear figures in the 9 February gubernatorial elections in Tokyo suggests that re-starting some of the country’s nuclear reactors may be a possibility.
According to Bloomberg news agency, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority may move a short-list of nuclear stations to the final selection stage within two to three weeks after clearing initial safety inspections.
Currently, there are six nuclear stations undergoing safety checks, and the regulator is trying to narrow this list down, while the industry is hoping to get some reactors online by the middle of this year.
At the same time, Reuters has cited unnamed high-level sources as saying that Japan will incorporate nuclear power in its mid-term energy policy as an “important base load” energy source. This plan is allegedly set to be approved in March.
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Former health and welfare minister Yoichi Masuzoe won the 9 February Tokyo gubernatorial elections, backed by pro-nuclear Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as well as the Japan Trade Union Confederation, of which Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is a member.
The issue of whether to scrap nuclear energy entirely in the wake of the Fukushima disaster had threatened to take precedence over other critical socio-economic issues, such as health care, and the 2020 Olympic Games. Masuzoe was the only “pro-nuclear” candidate running in the election—against a powerful “zero-nuclear” force that included gubernatorial candidate Morihiro Hosowaka, a former prime minister himself, backed by former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi.
While Hosokawa and another candidate, Kenji Utsunomiya, called for a permanent moratorium on nuclear power generation, Masuzoe lent his support to a gradual decrease of reliance on nuclear power to eventually be replaced by renewable energy. Together, Hosokawa and Utsunomiya won about 40% of the vote.
In the meantime, there has been another setback at Fukushima, with operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) saying last Thursday it had discovered 100 metric tons of contaminated water had leaked out of a storage tank.
By James Burgess of Oilprice.com