Japan yesterday approved the full resumption of commercial operations of an atomic reactor for the first time since the March 11 quake and tsunami sparked the Fukushima nuclear accident.
Hokkaido Electric Power Co (HEPCO) restarted commercial operations at the Tomari plant’s No. 3 reactor shortly after receiving the official go-ahead from the central government, a company spokesman said.
Almost three-quarters of Japan’s 54 reactors are now offline, mostly for regular safety checks, and many host communities have been reluctant to approve their restarts as anti-nuclear sentiment has grown in the quake-prone nation.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has said he would like to phase out nuclear power in the long term, but for now, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry wants to resume reactor operations amid a summer electricity crunch.
Atomic plants met about one-third of Japan’s domestic energy needs before the quake disaster, and business groups have warned that power shortages spell a serious threat to industry in the world’s third-biggest economy.
The reactor on the northern island of Hokkaido had officially been in a test phase, although it had been running for months and producing electricity at full capacity.
Hokkaido Governor Harumi Takahashi, after local debate on the plant’s safety, yesterday said she had “no objection” to the government declaring the safety test complete and allowing a return to full operations.
Once she formally relayed the message, the ministry issued a safety certificate allowing HEPCO to officially resume commercial operations.
A regular inspection of the Hokkaido reactor was launched in January, and the unit was restarted in a so-called adjustment operation on March 7, days before the earthquake. It has been operating ever since.
The ministry’s nuclear watchdog agency said additional safety tests that followed the quake were completed last week.
The emergency at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant started when Japan’s biggest quake on record hit the six-reactor facility and sent a massive tsunami barreling into it that claimed more than 20,000 lives along the coast.
The government and operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), yesterday reiterated the goal of bringing all reactors at the plant, which has been hit by meltdowns and explosions, to stable “cold shutdown” by January.
Emergency work has been hit by snags in a system to decontaminated massive amounts of radioactive water left from reactor cooling operations.
A government official told a press conference: “First of all, we need to expedite reprocessing of the contaminated water in order to achieve the cold shutdown,” where reactor temperatures fall below 100°C.
“There is basically no change to the roadmap in terms of the timing of achieving the objectives,” he said. “The government, together with TEPCO, will make further efforts to achieve the goal of bringing the reactors to a state of cold shutdown by mid-January.”