Japan nuclear plant to shut over fears of another tsunami


Tue, May 10, 2011 - Page 1

Japan’s third-biggest power operator yesterday agreed to shut a nuclear plant until it can be better defended against the type of massive tsunami which in March triggered the worst atomic crisis in 25 years.

Compounding public concern over an industry that supplies about 30 percent of the country’s electricity, another nuclear power operator — Japan Atomic Power — said it had plugged a tiny radiation leak at its Tsuruga nuclear power plant on the west coast — the first since it started operations in 1987.

It said the leak had no impact on the environment.

The move to close Chubu Electric Power Co’s Hamaoka nuclear power plant, 200km southwest of Tokyo and considered one of the quake-prone country’s most at risk, follows unusually overt pressure from Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

The demand for its closure signals a potential shift in energy policy after the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in the northeast was wrecked by a giant tsunami triggered by one of the biggest earthquakes ever recorded on March 11.

The company said it could restart the plant once its tsunami wall and other safety steps had been approved by the authorities.

That could take two years, raising the risk of an electricity shortage, which is already a threat following the closure of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.

“By halting the Hamaoka nuclear plant, we are causing great short-term trouble to not only those in the plant area, but also many others including our customers and our shareholders,” Chubu Electric president Akihisa Mizuno told a news conference.

“But firmly implementing measures to strengthen safety will become the cornerstone to continue safe and stable nuclear power in the long-term and in the end it will be to the benefit of our customers,” Mizuno said.

The closure of the plant in central Japan risks discouraging manufacturers from building factories and hurting consumer sentiment.

Output disruptions may not be large enough to delay economic recovery because the utility could likely meet summer demand with thermal energy and electricity from western Japan.

However, beyond the summer, the government has yet to articulate a clear plan for energy policy, which could encourage Japanese firms to move more production overseas and discourage private consumption.

Government experts put the chance of a magnitude 8 quake hitting the Hamaoka area in the next 30 years at 87 percent, which has raised questions over why it was built there in the first place.