Tomari shutdown leaves Japan without nuclear power

Tomari nuclear plant, Hokkaido (file photo - Sept 2011) The last of the three reactors at the Tomari nuclear plant is being switched off

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Japan is switching off its last working nuclear reactor, as part of the safety drive since the March 2011 tsunami triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima plant.

The third reactor at the Tomari plant, in Hokkaido prefecture, is shutting down for routine maintenance.

It leaves Japan without energy from atomic power for the first time for more than 40 years.

Until last year, Japan got 30% of its power from nuclear energy.

Hundreds of people marched through Tokyo, waving banners to celebrate what they hope will be the end of nuclear power in Japan.

Power shortages

Start Quote

Not a single [nuclear reactor] will be up and running today, and that's because of our efforts”

End Quote Masashi Ishikawa Anti-nuclear campaigner

Since the Fukushima disaster, all the country's reactors have been shut down for routine maintenance. They must withstand tests against earthquakes and tsunamis, and local authorities must give their consent in order for plants to restart.

So far, none have.

Two reactors at the Ohi plant in western Japan have been declared safe. The government says they should be restarted to combat looming shortages.

However, regional authorities would still have to give their approval.

Ministers have warned Japan faces a summer of power shortages.

The BBC's Roland Buerk, in Tokyo, says the government could force the issue, but so far has been reluctant to move against public opinion.

Organisers of the anti-nuclear march in the capital estimated turnout at 5,500.

Demonstrators carried banners shaped as giant fish. The "Koinobori" banners, traditionally the symbol of Children's Day, have been adopted by the anti-nuclear movement.

Anti-nuclear doemonstrators in Tokyo carrying carp-shaped banner (5 May) Anti-nuclear demonstrators carried the carp-shaped banners that have become a symbol of their movement.

"There are so many nuclear plants, but not a single one will be up and running today, and that's because of our efforts," campaigner Masashi Ishikawa told the crowd.

Engineers began the process of shutting down the final Tomari reactor, inserting control rods to bring the fission process to an end.

All operations at the plant will have stopped by 14:00 GMT, a spokesman told Associated Press.

World's worst nuclear incidents

  • Level 7: Chernobyl, Ukraine, 1986 - explosion and fire in operational reactor, fallout over thousands of square kilometres, possible 4,000 cancer cases
  • Level 7: Fukushima, 2011 - tsunami and possibly earthquake damage from seismic activity beyond plant design. Long-term effects unknown
  • Level 6: Kyshtym, Russia, 1957 - explosion in waste tank leading to hundreds of cancer cases, contamination over hundreds of square kilometres
  • Level 5: Windscale, UK, 1957 - fire in operating reactor, release of contamination in local area, possible 240 cancer cases
  • Level 5: Three Mile Island, US, 1979 - instrument fault leading to large-scale meltdown, severe damage to reactor core

Japan will then be without nuclear power for the first time since 1970.

Businesses have warned of severe consequences for manufacturing if no nuclear plants are allowed to re-start.

In the meantime, Japan has increased its fossil fuel imports, with electricity companies pressing old power plants into service.

If the country can get through the steamy summer without blackouts, calls to make the nuclear shutdown permanent will get louder, our correspondent says.

The six-reactor Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was badly damaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Blasts occurred at four of the reactors after the cooling systems went offline, triggering radiation leaks and forcing the evacuation of thousands of people.

A 20km (12m) exclusion zone remains in place around the plant.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    ... Britain, with all the tidal and wind energy readily available, .... Nuclear power has been heavily state-subsidized ...

    Wind power, which will never, repeat, never provide a reliable and meaningful resource is also heavily state subsidised.

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    People are very content to shut down nuclear plants without any thought for the consequences. People just assume clean renewable sources of energy will pop up in replacement, but as we can see here, fossil-fuel plants are being used to plug the gap. Coal plants harm/kill many more people and damages much more of the environment... I think nuclear is the lesser of two evils.

  • Comment number 286.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    This is more a political decision than a scientific one. Rather than falling over themselves because of public opinion much of it generated by unsubstantiated rumor and ignorance Japan's leaders ought to reappraise on how to make nuclear power station design as safe as possible for all eventualities. Surely technical lessons have been learned from this tragedy. Japan needs nuclear not hysteria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    267 Steve - What form of power is this? I've already pointed out that people have died from wind turbines. The largest loss of life from power generation was a hydro dam collapse. Tidal, wave and solar aren't yet viable. Geothermal involves digging, which is always dangerous.

    Is your solution the same as mine; fusion? Then we need more nuclear research to accelerate its progress.

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    @48 You have no idea what you are talking about it seems.
    All current nuclear reactors are Fission reactors, not Fusion.
    Fusion reactors would be perfectly safe as if the power is cut, the reaction stops immediately - but research is still needed to get them to work.
    Fukushima had problems as fission reactors contine to react after power loss, and with no power to cool them, you get melt down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    Nuclear energy provides about 17% of our energy needs and replacing them would cost £48bill. The Severn Barrage could be built at of a cost of £12bil and provide 18% of our needs. Someone is either being deliberately stupid or is pandering to the Nuclear companies. Lots pf other benefits for the barrage - 0 fall out, not reliant on uranium prices etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    They have now lost 30% of their power production capacity, which means their is a high risk of power cuts, which is OK if they are happy to suffer from lack of heating, cooling and lighting,. Now is the time we all need to rethink our use of power, from all sources, and say do we want so many electrical applicances, if we do we need to invest in power plants of all types.

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    Let the Japanese overreact - we need a much calmer approach. The emergence of shale gas might reduce the urgency of investing in nuclear power. But we would be foolish to rule it out because of an extreme one off incident that couldn’t happen here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    If two civilized and advanced nations, Japan and Germany, can go non-nuclear, certainly Britain, with all the tidal and wind energy readily available, should follow their lead, and ditch nuclear power too. Nuclear power has been heavily state-subsidized for ideological reasons alone. It doesn't make any sense anymore.
    There is no-one who'd want a nuclear waste dump in their community either......

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    258. Steve
    Can the pro nuclear ladies and gents commenting today, explain to me why an 100% clean/green economy could not be acheived? even by 2025, if we really tried.

    Yes because it would be so expensive as to leave us bankrput and completely unable to compete in the global marketplace. Grinding poverty and civil unrest would follow. Like the sound of that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    So global warming and C emissions increase as they burn fossil fuels to make up the deficit and crank up the price of fuel at the same time - how short sighted!

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    @258 Steve, David Mackay in Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air, (it is available for free on the web) put forward 5 scenarios where the energy supply matched the demand without using fossil fuel. At least one of those scenarios didn't use nuclear - 3 did I can't remember the fifth one . Go and look them up and see which one you like.

  • Comment number 275.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    The Fukushima 1 plant like most nuclear facilities was poorly designed in the 1950’s, modified in the 1980’s to “in theory” get round the design floors, these modifications however didn’t work.
    All 3 major nuclear accidents have involved some form of core meltdown due to lack of fluid.
    The nuclear industry (And Japan) are right to stand back and rethink reactor design.

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    Ironic that the closure of Nuclear plants will lead to greater environmental damage from fossil fuels.
    Time for the developed world to put its hands in its pockets and address the issue properly, reducing energy demand and increasing delivery efficiency from renewable not low carbon sources and stop paying lip service and building new and bigger power stations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    Even though in principle I like the idea of 'Green Technologies' I think that it's too big a step at the moment. I think we should have an equal focus on nuclear and green - nuclear to provide energy for the short term, and green to begin to sort things out in the long run. Stuff like HEP could work, it will just take time and money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    I kinda get neuclear hating i definetly hate nuklear weapons but a neuclear pwer plant is much less CO2 emitting and waste emitting and resource consuming than an oil or coal plant no-one has died of one in recent years there has been one meltdown but it killed nobody. Also it is a source of efficient energy and. Ast ammounts even in small plants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    Like any tech nuclear power is a good source of power if more thought given to it. On paper it's good, but govs scrimp on contracts to lowest bidders and iffy builders cut corners for profit, leave them vulnerable. If a priority to locate and build them properly and correct disposal of waste enacted this would be no problem. We want benefits of electricity but turn away from how we get it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    It seems to me that for Nuclear Energy to be as safe as possible it requires near obsessive attention to regular maintenance and repair. This is expensive, which means that as long as the business model places profitability first, there will always be an incentive to skimp on the requirements for safety mentioned above. Nuclear power is therefor likely to remain dangerous.


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