Japan’s government wants to restart two nuclear plants to avert summer power shortages, but public skepticism of nuclear safety and the industry remains high.
The prospect of power shortages in Japan this summer, of stifling city apartments and manufacturing slowdowns, has divided a country still reeling from the worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl over whether to restart some of its idled reactors.
The government contends that the country can’t afford not to resume nuclear energy production.
The last operating nuclear reactor in Japan, on the northernmost main island of Hokkaido, will be taken off line May 5 for stress tests and safety improvements. Japan’s 53 other reactors were shut down after the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, which killed thousands of people. The inundation damaged cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi power complex, causing three reactor meltdowns, mass evacuations, food and farmland contamination, and profound distrust of the nuclear power industry.
Japan generated 30% of its electricity from nuclear plants before the disaster 13 months ago, and energy companies are now warning consumers and industries that they could face a doubling of their power bills if the country continues to import fossil fuels to replace the lost nuclear output.
Pocketbook concerns may do little to boost public confidence in resuming nuclear generation, though, if sentiments expressed in a recent poll published by the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper persist through the summer, when urban Japanese are accustomed to turning on the air conditioning.