Japan reverses ban on nuclear power and buys UK stations

On 11th March 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant suffered a partial meltdown due to a large earthquake and tsunami, putting the entire Japanese east coast on standby. The International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) rated the disaster as a grade 7. Only one other nuclear disaster has received such a high rating. Chernobyl.

This changed the way in which the Japanese public saw nuclear energy; the fact that the disaster was only days away from causing the entire evacuation of Tokyo and surrounding areas obviously hit some raw notes in the ears of Japanese politics; by mid-September, the Japanese government announced it would be ending the use of all nuclear power by the 2030s. Currently only one nuclear plant remains in operation in Japan, the Ōi Nuclear Power Plant, and even that is struggling to stay open with Osaka city requesting its immediate shutdown.

This would bring an end to Japan’s nuclear involvement and signal the way for innovation in energy production in a country that is already considered to be one of the world’s technological leaders. It seems reasonable that if Japan can overcome the need for nuclear power and development, time would be the only constraint before other nations follow the same path.

No less than a month after Japan decides to end its nuclear power programme, Japanese technology company Hitachi announces it has purchased the rights to produce nuclear power in the UK. On the one hand, Japan feels it too ‘politically risky’ to be associated with nuclear power on its mainland; on the other hand, it supports Japanese nuclear developments overseas.By ensuring a nuclear interest Japan is banking all the technological advances in nuclear power and by purchasing the rights to UK nuclear power the politicians don’t have to deal with messy things like colossal nuclear meltdowns; at least not in their voters back yards.

Japan’s own nuclear standards are already far below those held by the International Nuclear Safety Policy, not to mention Japan has one of the longest nuclear accident records going;

1981 – 300 workers exposed to dangerous levels of nuclear radiation at the Tsuruga Nuclear Power Plant.

1997 – Fire and explosion at Tokaimura nuclear processing plant. 37 workers exposed to radiation.

1999 – Uncontrolled nuclear reaction and explosion at Fukui Prefecture; due to a fuel loading malfunction.

1999 – Accident at Tokai fuel fabrication facility; hundreds of people exposed to radiation. Two died of their exposure.

2000 – Scandal of edited videos submitted to regulators in 1989 is exposed. Cracks in nuclear pipelines were edited out and some executives were forced to quit.

2002 – Falsified inspection records leads to the shutdown of 17 nuclear reactors.

Not to mention further accidents in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2011.

This might seem like a good way to secure the future of British energy, but this might well spell trouble for the nuclear safety record of the UK.

Those who argue against nuclear power tend to argue on the grounds of safety; although Hitachi’s own record for nuclear power is clean, Japan has a long way to go before it starts to inspire confidence overseas. One can’t help but wonder if the governing power of Hitachi, who will have spent years in the Japanese nuclear industry, will see European legislation as necessary or needless.  The construction of new nuclear power plants in the UK could give Japan the chance to prove it can operate nuclear energy safely. If not, we’ll be the ones having a meltdown.

Sam Foster

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