Uncertain reopening . . .
On June 2, Tatsuya Maruyama, Governor of Shimane Prefecture in Japan’s southwest, approved restarting the Chugoku Electric Power Co.’s (Chugoku) No. 2 reactor. Announcing the approval, Governor Maruyama noted the role of nuclear power in Japan’s energy policy and Chugoku’s importance to the local economy. The decision to restart in the southwest contrasts with activities in northern Japan, where the Sapporo District Court ruled on May 31 against restarting three reactors at Hokkaido Electric Co.’s Tomari nuclear power plant due to safety concerns. Both power plants have been offline since 2012, following the March 2011 ‘Triple Disaster’ and more robust nuclear safety requirements passed shortly after.
Local approval required . . .
Almost a year after the plant satisfied the national safety standards of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, local authorities approved Chugoku’s restart. Tomari’s restart, meanwhile, has been refused due to the plant’s failure to adequately address disaster response requirements and safety concerns related to its location close to a seismic fault. However, the Chugoku plant’s restart could yet be delayed by legal challenges from residents who live nearby, as was the case for the Tomari plant. Chugoku has the country’s third-largest population density within its 30-km evacuation radius.
The future of Japan’s nuclear energy . . .
Japan’s national energy policy and international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions rely heavily on restarting its nuclear power plants, and Prime Minister Kishida recently reaffirmed Japan’s commitment to nuclear restarts. Even so, the decision to restart these plants in Japan ultimately rests with officials at the subnational level. While Japan needs nuclear power to meet its 2050 carbon neutrality goals, earthquakes and nuclear waste storage remain significant areas of concern. In addition to domestic supply issues, imported energy costs are skyrocketing due to the Ukraine war, making nuclear options increasingly more attractive.