Nuclear power since the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima reactor
While Japan has been reluctant to return wholesale to nuclear power since the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima reactor, a total of five nuclear reactors have been restarted in-country by the end of October 2018.
The reported restarts follow the suspension of the country’s nuclear fleet in 2013 for mandatory safety checks and upgrades. To start up again, both Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) and the central government must sign off, alongside local prefectures. Subsequently, most did not return to operation. In the years following, only four were restarted, making 2018 a significant year for Japan’s nuclear resurgence.
The hold on nuclear power helped push Japan into greater dependence on liquefied natural gas (LNG), oil and coal imports to make up for the energy loss. The nation’s limited energy resources make it highly dependent on imported fossil fuels, so the return to nuclear could be good news for its bottom line. In 2017, natural gas accounted for nearly 37 percent of its electricity and coal 33 percent. Such increased imports have resulted in the country spending around $30 billion more each year following Fukushima, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Safety regulations have become more strict since the Fukushima incident, as the government tries to address issues raised by tsunamis and earthquakes, along with dangers posed by complete station power loss. Before a nuclear power plant can resume generating electricity, it has to apply to restart, pass an NRA inspection and review process, then make any necessary safety upgrades — followed by yet another inspection.
To date, 20 Japanese nuclear reactors have permanently retired since Fukushima. That leaves 34 potentially operable reactors, of which nine are currently in use. Another 18 are in the process of review and approval to be put back online.
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