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May 8, 2011 / J. Shaw

Japan to stick with Nuclear Power


Japan remains committed to nuclear power despite the continuing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Prime Minister Naoto Kansaid Sunday, as workers moved closer to repairing the crippled plant by opening the doors of a damaged reactor building.

Opening the doors of Unit 1 is intended to air out the reactor building, ensuring that radiation levels are low enough to allow workers to enter. The plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, said the procedure would release little radiation into the atmosphere because an air filtering system installed last week has already removed most of the dangerous particles.

After the doors sit open for eight hours, workers will go inside to begin replacing the reactor’s cooling system, which was destroyed by a huge tsunami two months ago.

The company has said it would take at least six months to stabilize the plant, in which three of the six reactors were damaged by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami on March 11. Hydrogen explosions spewed radiation into the atmosphere, causing the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

Despite the accident, Mr. Kan indicated Sunday that his government was not rethinking Japan’s energy policy. There had been speculation that the government might shut down more nuclear plants after Mr. Kan requested last week the temporary shut down of the Hamaoka nuclear plant in central Japan, because of safety concerns.

Mr. Kan told reporters on Sunday that he would not seek the closure of any more of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors. He called the Hamaoka plant, 125 miles west of Tokyo, “a special case” because of its location atop a major fault line. Government seismologists say there is an almost 90 percent chance of a major earthquake on the fault line within the next 30 years.

Critics have long warned of a possible accident at the Hamaoka plant, which sits upwind of Tokyo. Mr. Kan asked that the plant’s operation be halted until a wall can be built that would withstand a tsunami and backup systems installed to strengthen the plant against earthquakes.

The Hamaoka plant’s operator, the Chubu Electric Power Company, is expected to accept the prime minister’s request, which appears to have the support of Japan’s nuclear-wary public. The company’s board of directors is scheduled to meet Monday to consider the request. It did not reach a decision at a meeting on Saturday, when some board members expressed concern about summer power shortages if the plant were taken offline.

The utility company supplies power to central Japan, including Aichi Prefecture, the home of Toyota Motor. Tokyo already faces the prospect of summer electrical shortages because of the loss of electric power from Fukushima Daiichi and other plants in earthquake-damaged northern Japan.

Despite the setbacks, a senior Japanese official, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, said that the nation would maintain nuclear power as an important source of energy. He said the disaster at Fukushima had not forced Japan to reconsider its dependence on nuclear power, which currently supplies about a quarter of its total production of electricity.

“Our energy policy is to stick to nuclear power,” Mr. Sengoku said on a Sunday morning television talk show.


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