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The Necessary Evil: Japan to Restart Two Nuclear Reactors in Fukui Prefecture

Two reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda approved the restart of reactors 3 and 4 at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, owned by Kansai Electric Power Company. This is the first plant to come online after the total shutdown from last month, which left Japan with zero nuclear contribution to the power grid.

The Japanese government finally realized that they can’t do without nuclear – at least not for the moment. The country’s 50 nuclear reactors only provide 30 percent of the energy mix, but if it wasn’t for nuclear, they would have used coal power plants.

Recent news showed that the grid companies from Japan imported 40 percent more coal from the United States in the first months of 2012 than they did in the same period of 2011.

Despite the renewed vow to nuclear energy, the Japanese government is now forcing utilities to pay feed-in tariffs to clean energy producers, for providing an incentive for at least 20 years.

“It does indicate there’s a return of confidence to a certain extent,” says Andrew Sherry , director of the Dalton Nuclear Institute at the University of Manchester, UK, quoted by newscientist. “How strong it is, I don’t know, but I think people recognise the need for an energy mix, and nuclear provides a low-carbon component of that.”

2.36 gigawatts will be added to Japan’s electricity grid by the restart of the two reactors at the beginning of July.

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  1. A large power grid is very useful in maintaining stable energy supplies in spite of varying local conditions and the sudden loss of power input from a power source. Unfortunately, loss of a big chunk of generation isn’t handled so well and options can turn rather draconian – from rolling blackouts to mandatory energy use reductions with sizeable penalties to bringing less favored energy sources online (like imported coal). Japan has a further problem in that it has a huge natural disaster to recover from. In a modern society though, the grid is a key requirement. Just unpleasant decisions to make all around.

    FYI: for an inside look at the people, politics and technology of nuclear power see my free novel “Rad Decision”, based on my decades in the US atomic fun industry. The plant involved and the climactic event bear some simularities to Fukushima. Free online, no advertisements or sponsors – just google “Rad Decision”.


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