Friday, March 21, 2014

Japanese nuclear restart?

Will Japan restart some nuclear power plants in the coming months? The New York Times, focusing on the political and economic dynamics between Ikata, a small town with a nuclear power facility likely to be the first to reopen, and the national government, suggests it will:
The town’s angst is a microcosm for the indecision that has gripped Japan as a whole. Though it has idled its undamaged reactors because of post-Fukushima safety fears, it also frets about losing a vital source of energy for this resource-poor nation. Mr. Abe and his governing Liberal Democratic Party, which has close ties to Japan’s powerful nuclear industry, have vowed to break through the logjam by restarting at least some reactors to provide low-cost electricity in hopes of keeping more factories and jobs in Japan.
This has led to growing political pressure on the newly created nuclear monitoring agency to speed through safety reviews of the 17 most modern Japanese reactors, including the newest of the three reactors at the Ikata power station, as a step toward turning them back on. Analysts and industry executives say the first approvals could come in May or June, possibly in time for peak summer use.
Residents of Ikata are divided.
Still, there has been an appearance of open, if limited, opposition to the plant, evident in the bright yellow hand-painted signs outside its gates that proclaim “Absolutely No Nukes!” A few townspeople also joined a lawsuit to shut it down permanently, though most of the 1,002 plaintiffs are from neighboring towns. The case, which was filed after the March 2011 Fukushima accident, is still in court.
“I think there is a deep layer of opposition to the nuclear plant, but those with money are using fear-mongering about damage to the economy to suppress it,” said one of the lawsuit’s leaders, Hideto Matsuura, 68, a retired manager at a machinery manufacturer who lives in a nearby city.
The plant’s operator, the Shikoku Electric Power Company, has tried to allay these fears by spending $840 million on a four-year plan to bring the plant in line with tougher new safety standards. This has included assembling a small fleet of trucks carrying backup generators and water pumps on high ground, out of reach of large tsunamis like the one that ruined power and water-cooling systems at the Fukushima plant.
The upside of the restart is that it would take some coal fired electrical plants, currently replacing the power lost from the shuttered nukes, offline. Measuring this trade-off is complicated, too complicated for me to devise a formula. I hope some smart folks take this on.

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