Operational Ban Lifted on Major Japan Nuclear Plant

Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) nuclear plant

(Credit: Tokyo Electric Power)

by | Jan 3, 2024

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Japan’s nuclear power regulator has lifted its operational ban on Tokyo Electric Power’s (Tepco) Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, the largest nuclear site in the world, after shutting it down about three years ago due to safety concerns.

The plant, which reportedly has a capacity of 8.2 gigawatts, was the only operable atomic power station in the country when it was shut down. It had previously been offline since the 2011 Fukushima disaster caused all nuclear power plants in the country to cease operations.

Tepco was barred from operating the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in 2021 after the Nuclear Regulation Authority reportedly found safety breaches such as failing to protect nuclear materials and finding an unauthorized staff member accessing sensitive areas of the plant.

Last week, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority found that counterterrorism and safety measures had since been improved at the plant after conducting inspections. Before the plant may come back online, however, consent must be achieved from local governments in Niigata, Kashiwazaki city, and Kariwa village, where the plant is located.

“The government will seek the understanding and cooperation of Niigata prefecture and local communities, emphasizing ‘safety-first’,” said Yoshimasa Hayashi, the government’s top spokesperson, in a Reuters report.

The company has compiled a report on the causes of the infractions that led to its ban and how improvements have been made since. Shares in Tepco dramatically increased when the Nuclear Regulation Authority indicated that the ban would be lifted, especially as the country works to revitalize its nuclear power profile.

Japan Looks to Nuclear Power for Energy Security, Decarbonization

As Japan currently imports about 90% of its energy, the country’s government has recently pushed for a revival of nuclear energy to strengthen domestic energy security and to meet its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.

Before the Fukushima disaster, a third of Japan’s electricity came from its 54 nuclear reactors. With only nine of these operational at present, the country currently relies heavily on imports, especially liquid natural gas coming from Russia. The Japanese government reportedly published a plan to begin restarting nuclear reactors after it found public opposition to nuclear power to be in decline.

International nuclear capacity will need to double, according to the International Energy Agency, to meet global net-zero targets. Despite concerns over the time and cost intensity of large nuclear projects, the United States Department of Energy considers nuclear power to be a reliable low-carbon energy solution that may aid many countries in working to decarbonize.

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