Nuclear Update: Japan Puts First Reactor Online Since Fukushima

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(Photo: P. Hajzler)
(Photo: P. Hajzler)

WORLD

  • Japan restarts Ohi nuclear plant reactor no. 3
  • More reactors to go online to prevent blackouts
  • Energy imports hurt Japan's trade deficit

Japan has reintroduced nuclear power to its economy, with the nation's Ohi nuclear plant reactor no. 3 the first to be restarted since last year’s Fukushima disaster.

To reinforce security, an on-site command center, raised sea wall and filtered vents are being constructed at the Ohi plant. The sea wall should be ready next year, and the final major safety measures are expected to be done within three years.

Officials have warned that reactors need to be restarted to prevent a summer blackout, and the government aims to have the majority of its 50 primary reactors working as soon as possible.

More Transparent Rules Required

Japanese nuclear plants were shut down last year following the Fukushima disaster to undergo intensive safety checks, leaving Japan without nuclear energy for the first time in over 30 years.

A Japanese parliament-appointed committee has since inspected the Fukushima Dai-ichi site and three other nearby plants. Based on its evaluation, the committee urges the government to create more transparent rules for the use of nuclear energy as all as to oversee reforms in crisis management, and overhaul guidelines for safety and public health.

The panel also suggested that reactors built prior to 1981 are at a greater risk and should be retro-fitted.

Trade Deficit High

Japan has been promoting nuclear power as a safe and affordable energy alternative for decades.

Nuclear energy supplied roughly 30% of the nation's electricity needs prior to last year's disaster, and Japan has since depended on imported fuel to make up the power shortage. Liquified natural gas (LNG) imports have spiked nearly 17% from a year ago, while coal imports are up nearly 21%. Crude oil imports have also increased 7% since 2011.

As a result of higher energy imports, Japan's trade deficit has risen to the third highest on record, and is over 60% higher than predicted, says Reuters. Japan's trade position has also been weakened by a decline in global demand due to the economic crisis and lower exports linked to the Fukushima disaster.

Economists hope that reopening the nation’s nuclear plants may help reduce the trade deficit by easing Japan's dependency on foreign energy.

Key Statistics – Nuclear Energy in Japan (Source: World Nuclear Association)

  • When in operation, Japan's 50 primary nuclear power plant reactors provide 30% of the nation’s power.
  • Nuclear energy contribution in Japan is expected to rise at least 40% by 2017.
  • Currently 84% of Japan's energy requirements are from imported fuel sources; Japan has a fuel cycle that includes the enrichment and reprocessing of recycled fuels.

By Nicole Manuel for
Nicole Manuel is a freelance economics, finance and blog writer with a degree in economics and over two years of experience.

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