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article imageJapan restarts Oi nuclear plant despite mass protests

By Anne Sewell     Jul 2, 2012 in Environment
Washington - Despite massive protests in Tokyo, Japan's Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) has restarted the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui prefecture. Seismologists warn of the dangers.
After being nuclear-free for two months, Japan's Oi nuclear power plant is up and running. This is the first nuclear site to go back online since Japan shut down the last of the country's nuclear reactors in May this year, over security concerns.
Reactor 3 at the Oi nuclear power plant was restarted at 9 pm local time (12:am GMT) on Sunday, in the presence of Japan's senior vice industry minister, Seishu Makino. The plant is expected to start operating at full capacity from Sunday. Following this, reactor 4 is set to be restarted on July 17.
Reports are that both reactors have been monitored and thoroughly checked since Japan's government decided to return to nuclear energy two weeks ago.
After a round of rigorous negotiations, the restart was approved, with local authorities demanding additional guarantees from KEPCO's management before reopening the plant. Federal authorities had insisted that the facility needed to be restarted as quickly as possible to ensure economic stability in the country.
As reported by Digital Journal, 200,000 protesters gathered in Tokyo on Jun 29, demonstrating in no uncertain terms that they were against the nuclear restart. Protesters surrounded Noda's residence in central Tokyo to make sure their message would not be ignored. On Sunday, hundreds of activists gathered in protest in front of the Oi nuclear plant, and police had to take measures to keep demonstrators away from the gates to the plant.
Despite all the huge public opposition, the Japanese government has refused to reconsider its decision on restarting nuclear plants. Prior to the Fukushima disaster in March 2011, Japan drew around 30% of its energy from nuclear power. When the nuclear power plants were shut down, supplies fell short by 14% in Tokyo, and up to 16% in western Japan. This was the first time since 1970 that Japan had no nuclear power.
Protesters are against nuclear energy since the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated the Fukushima nuclear power plant. It is said that the fallout from this disaster was four times greater than that of the Chernobyl disaster.
Reuters reports that seismologists have warned Japan against the nuclear restart.
Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismologist at Kobe university, told reporters that seismic modeling on Japan's nuclear regulator did not property take into account active fault lines near the Oi plant.
He told Reuters, "The stress tests and new safety guidelines for restarting nuclear power plants both allow for accidents at plants to occur. Instead of making standards more strict, they both represent a severe setback in safety standards."
At the same news conference, Mitsuhisa Watanabe, a tectonic geomorphology professor at Tokyo University, also said that Japan's nuclear industry has underestimated the seismic threat.
"The expertise and neutrality of experts advising Japan's Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency are highly questionable," Watanabe said.
Ishibashi said that after a 2007 earthquake caused radiation leaks at nuclear reactors north of Tokyo, warnings were given of the risk of a nuclear disaster following a large earthquake, which proved to be true with the Fukushima disaster in 2011.
Ishibashi said that while it is impossible to predict when earthquakes are going to happen, the magnitude 9 earthquake last year made it more likely that "devastating" earthquakes would follow in the future.
Channel News Asia is reporting that despite the nuclear restart, electricity saving measures will be put in place today. The Japanese government is asking businesses and households in western and central Japan to voluntarily cut electricity consumption by between 5-15% through to September 7 this year.
More about Japan, Tokyo, oi, Nuclear power plant, restart
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