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 328.

    Dear 48. Gabriel Oaks

    You obviously don't know the slightest thing about nuclear fusion power generation and shouldn't really comment on it. Fusion power plants would be 100% safe, only VERY low level waste. Impossible to melt down and pose only a 1km zone of low level radioactivity (equivalent to a transatlantic flight) in a worst case scenario.

    Instead of decrying you should be welcoming it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    Ok rest of the world now needs to follow.
    294. Blitterbug Without nuclear power, we as an advanced civilisation are stuffed....
    If this is civilised fine by me bud!

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    According to Herer’s research, “Farming only six percent of the continental U.S. acreage with biomass [from hemp] crops would provide all of American’s gas and oil energy needs, ending dependence upon fossil fuels.” He added, “Each acre of hemp would yield 1,000 gallons of methanol. Fuels from hemp, along with the recycling of paper, would be enough to run America virtually without oil.

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    Scotland's government is following a similar route, no new nuclear power stations, phase out the old and invest in wind and wave power.

    Nuclear energy has always been cloak and dagger, the truth of what has happened always hidden form the public.

    Sooner nuclear energy is phased out the better, locally and globally we can afford the costs or risks!

    C McK

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    The only efficient (and safe) ways of generating electricity are with fossil fuels - coal and gas. Fact

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    A retrograde step, nuclear power is essential if modern society is to continue to use power at the rate it is. It would be better to make sure power plants are safe, not build on fault lines, and use the modern, safer fission reactors being built all the time. We desperately need nuclear investment in the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 322.

    @ 311.Algernond
    Great minds! You got there before me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.

    No, we invest in it's potential!!!!! We problem solve. Knock knock anyone there.
    Hay heres an idea we consume less energy in general! Deaths caused by harnessing the suns power? I'd like to see the.stats! With this last point do i need to say any more

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.

    The majority of nuclear incidents occur as a result of negligence, mismanagement and mishandling of the situation. Nuclear is safe when it's not run on a wire string budget to maximise profits, and the engineers who design the plant decide where it is suitable to build. Personally I'd rather have a nuclear waste facility near me than a coal power plant, nuclear waste is sealed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 319.

    Solarpower is nuclear power!
    You all in favour of nuclear must really love that!

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    Stepping back in time to fossil fuels isn't the answer, nor is shutting down working nuclear plants that have been declared as safe as can be judged. While it makes good press, it isn't practical when nuclear provides 30% of the country's power. Let's hope Japan uses this situation not merely to stop using nuclear power but to heavily invest in alternatives like wave, solar, and wind energy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 317.

    Why do people only look at old, badly designed nuclear power plant meltdowns instead of the benefits? if done correctly, nuclear plants give a massive power output and without them we won't be able to maintain our increasing energy demands.

  • rate this

    Comment number 316.

    UK safe?
    DECC report finds number of sites contaminated with radioactive waste -far higher than previously estimated. Hundreds of sites across England & Wales - radioactive waste from old military bases & factories.
    Est. @ 1,000 sites polluted, though better guess is 150 - 250.
    Who bears responsibility for clean-up? How close are you to contamination?

  • rate this

    Comment number 315.

    What odds the Japanese crack the fusion power problem within the next 30 years. I wouldn't put it past them.

    Then they can have safe power at last.

  • rate this

    Comment number 314.

    General Electric & Japan Gov. went ahead and build these plants on top of the earth’s most unstable fault line, this was a disaster by design as they were well aware the C1 was not a safe design.

  • rate this

    Comment number 313.

    I'm sorry but you are missing something here, and i can't stress this strongly enough, man made nuclear power is nothing, zip, nadda, compared to the power of the sun. =================================================
    Power of sun 1kW/sq.m during bright sunshine
    Power of sun nothing, zilch, nada during the night
    ...starting to see a problem here?

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    @ 48.Gabriel Oaks
    Not read all the comments so someone might already have corrected this post.
    The reactors he is concerned about are fission reactors not fusion reactors.If there are to be negative comments, let them be accurate.
    Fusion reactors, if they are ever built, will be inherently safer than fission reactors. Not enoough characters left to explain why.

  • rate this

    Comment number 311.

    So sad to see Gabriel Oats comments (no. 48).

    1. There are no Fusion nuclear power stations in the world (unfortunately). Fusion power has no unstable by-products (only water).

    2. The Fission power stations (which are the type used for current nuclear power) are responsible for orders of magnitude less deaths (if any at all) than fossil fuels, cars, etc.... To put it in perspective, refer to 43

  • rate this

    Comment number 310.

    Do the Earth’s volcanoes emit more CO2 than human activities? Research findings indicate that the answer to this frequently asked question is a clear and unequivocal, “No.” Human activities, responsible for a projected 35 billion metric tons (gigatons) of CO2 emissions in 2010.

    The problem is the location of the Reactors and not the science.

  • rate this

    Comment number 309.

    I see that the Japanese government said it expects electricity shortages of some where between 5-10% this summer. Based peak-demand data from last summer. Not in the above story i notice.



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