Japan’s Sendai unit 1 nuclear reactor is back online, having being shut down two months after the earthquake and tsunami which struck in March 2011.
Although Sendai unit 1 was not damaged during the catastrophe, all of Japan’s reactors were gradually brought offline following the meltdown at Fukushima, which was triggered by the tsunami. Sendai 1 is the first of 43 operable reactors that Japan may attempt to bring back into service over the coming months and years.
“Today Japan has reminded the world that it is committed to creating a better future,” said Agneta Rising, director general of the World Nuclear Association (WNA), the international body that promotes nuclear power.
“This is a hugely important step which sets the country firmly on the path to restoring its trade balance and regaining energy independence, as well as reducing emissions.”
Sendai 1 is a pressurised water reactor (PWR) located on the southwest coast of Kyushu, Japan’s third largest island. Operated by the Kyushu Electric Power Company, it has a net electrical capacity of 846MW. Prior to 2011 it produced an average of 6157GWh of electricity each year.
Due to Japan’s lack of indigenous energy resources, the country has been spending ¥3.6 trillion ($30bn) each year importing fossil fuel to make up for the shortfall caused by the nuclear shutdown. According to the WNA, Sendai 1 prevents the emission of more than six million tonnes of CO2 each year, compared to coal-fired generation.
Nonetheless, there are still major safety concerns among the people of Japan, and the BBC reports that protests have been taking place at the plant and outside the Tokyo residence of Prime Minister Shinzō Abe. Around 160,000 people had to be evacuated from the area surrounding the Fukushima plant in 2011.
The WNA claims that strict safety processes have been put in place since Fukushima, and Sendai was only cleared to restart following a rigorous safety assessment from Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), as well as consultation with local government.
“It is completely understandable that people’s faith in nuclear technology was shaken by the events of 11 March 2011, but now the Japanese people need to see their reactors performing efficiently and reliably with operators fully committed to protecting public health and the environment,” said Rising.
“It is important that they are reminded of the key role nuclear energy has traditionally played in supporting industry, keeping bills down, and keeping Japan secure.”
Fossil fuels currently make up 88 per cent of Japan’s energy mix. By 2030, the country plans to reduce this to about 55 per cent, with nuclear providing 20-22 per cent, hydroelectric 9 per cent, and other renewables approximately 14 per cent.
Although Sendai 1 has already been restarted, it will not begin generating electricity until August 14. Power will be gradually increased before the plant is back up to full capacity in early September, when a final regulatory inspection will take place.