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Japan’s damaged nuclear reactors
Nuclear power is often times suggested as one of the alternatives to coal and gas - today’s most common source of energy. What happened with Japan’s nuclear reactors during the March 11 earthquake, however, elevates the question of whether the safety concerns and disadvantages associated with nuclear reactors are risks worth taking.
Has Japan’s damaged nuclear reactors been fully restored? Will the nuclear reactor crisis from the March 11 earthquake slow down Japan’s development and construction of new reactors? How would the crisis affect the nuclear energy programs of other countries?
Sep 30, 2011
The natural disaster that struck Japan on March 11, 2011 has changed the views of many on the question of nuclear power. Although the use of nuclear power plants in Japan had long enjoyed large political support, many have come to question the safety of relying on nuclear energy.
Several days after the disaster in Fukushima, 4 of the 6 reactors of the plant (named Fukushima Daiichi or Fukushima One) had been deemed damaged beyond repair. Although 2 reactors can still operate, any hopes of salvaging the other reactors would be futile and would have to be scrapped. Reactors 1 to 3 of the plant are believed to have suffered full nuclear meltdowns, and reactor 4's building integrity had been severely damaged due to hydrogen explosions. (http://www.conservativerefocus.com/blog5.php/2011/03/30/fukushima-nuclear-plant-four-of-six-reactors-damaged-beyond-repair-along-with-tepco-president )
As of present, reactor number 2 has gone below 100° C (September 29th , 2011) following those of reactors 1 and 3 several weeks before. Reactor number 4 had been defueled for maintenance before the earthquake and thus did not need containment, although its damaged structural integrity would make restoration impossible. The Japanese government has issued a statement that they expect a full cold shutdown by the end of the year. (http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/breaking-news/fukushima-reactor-drops-below-100c/story-e6frf7jx-1226151215427 )
It has been reported that any further use of the remaining 2 reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi plant remains on hold until full clean up and damage assessment operations are finished, and units 1 to 4 will be decommissioned once the disaster is deemed under control.
The impact of the disaster on Japan's policy on nuclear technology has been large. Former Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan issued statements stating that Japan should end its dependence on nuclear energy ordering the closure of the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant in May 2011 to allay fears of earthquake and tsunami damage, and canceling plans to build additional reactors. A stance that many Japanese citizens have echoed.
The new prime minister Yoshihiko Noda however, sides with the business community in saying that nuclear energy is an important part of the Japanese economy, and to hinder the construction of new plants would risk further crippling it (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/japan/index.html). As the controversy on which path Japan will follow in terms of meeting its energy needs linger, there is certainly a lot remaining to be discussed. As fas as further development of nuclear plants in Japan however, prime minister Noda, whose first speech called for the reduction of Japan's dependency on nuclear energy(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/13/yoshihiko-noda-nuclear-power_n_960318.html), has begun calls for the restart of power plants that had been shutdown following the Fukushima disaster. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-14895182)
The disaster in Fukushima also brought attention to various nuclear plants around the world in terms of how prepared are they in terms of possible calamities like the ones experienced in Japan. American support for nuclear energy has not wavered, although it is admitted that the construction of new power plants in the US had not been on the rise even before the accident. The goal of establishing safe and clean nuclear sources of energy are still included in President Obama's future energy plans. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-12738459)
Around the world, safety standards concerning nuclear plants have been brought to question and the ability of these facilities to withstand powerful earthquakes has been studied. Whether or not such calls will eventually lead to concrete legislation concerning the use of nuclear power, remains to be seen.
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