Japan plans to develop new nuclear reactors | Recent news

By MARI YAMAGUCHI – Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday urged his government to consider developing safer and smaller nuclear reactors, signaling renewed interest in nuclear power years after many plants were shut down from the country.

Kishida made the comment during a ‘green transformation’ conference on boosting the country’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Japan has pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Anti-nuclear sentiment and safety concerns rose sharply in Japan after the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in 2011, but the government pushed for a return to nuclear power amid fears of fuel shortages. electricity following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a global push to reduce greenhouse gases.

The government, however, had previously insisted it was not planning to build new plants or replace aging reactors, apparently to avoid fueling criticism from a wary public. Kishida’s comment on Wednesday represents a sea change from that position.

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He said the panel presented proposals for the development and construction of “innovative new reactors designed with new safety mechanisms”. He called on the government to speed up its review of “all possible measures” and make a decision by the end of the year.

“In order to overcome our impending power shortage crisis, we must do our utmost to mobilize all possible policies in the coming years and prepare for any emergency,” Kishida said.

“It is extremely important to secure all options to redesign a stable energy supply for our country,” Economy and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters. “From this point of view, we will also examine all options concerning nuclear energy.”

Most Japanese nuclear power plants were taken out of service following the Fukushima accident for safety checks under tightened standards.

A magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami destroyed the main cooling functions of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011, causing three reactors to melt and contaminating the region with massive radiation that still keeps some areas uninhabitable .

Japanese utilities have since decommissioned more than 20 reactors, mainly due to the high cost of safety measures. Of the 33 reactors in working order, 25 have undergone safety checks by the Nuclear Safety Authority. Seventeen have been approved so far, but only 10 have restarted after obtaining consent from local communities, three of which are currently offline for regular safety inspections.

The government has already announced plans to speed up restarts and restart up to nine reactors by winter to deal with the energy crisis. It aims to restart seven more reactors after next summer and further extend the operational life of aging reactors beyond 60 years from the initial 40 years.

Some energy experts say so-called next-generation reactors, such as small modular reactors, could be expensive and add a financial burden to plant operators.

Toyoshi Fuketa, commissioner of Japan’s nuclear watchdog, the Nuclear Safety Authority, told reporters on Wednesday that his agency’s safety standards are not affected by the government’s nuclear power policy. Japan does not yet have safety standards for next-generation reactors and it would take more than a year to establish such guidelines, while the safety of aging reactors needs to be carefully considered individually, he said. .

Critics say the true cost of nuclear power would be much higher if the expense of radioactive waste management and final storage facilities were included, and that there are long-term environmental risks of another nuclear accident. Fukushima type. They also say Russia’s attacks on a nuclear power plant in Ukraine show that they are a potential security risk and need to be better protected.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, has been criticized for lax safeguards at another plant, Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, where it is seeking to restart two reactors. The reactors are among the seven that the government wants to restart quickly.

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