Nuclear Power in Japan

Summary of a report from Daily Telegraph, 18 July 07

Japan's nuclear power industry is in the spotlight after Monday's magnitude 6.8 earthquake caused a small fire and a leak of contaminated water at the Tokyo Electric Power Co Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, the world's largest, in northwest Japan.

Summary of the nuclear power industry in Japan

Approximately three decades after Japan's first nuclear power plant started operating in Ibaraki Prefecture in 1966, nine Japanese utilities and 55 commercial nuclear power generators are located across the four main islands.

With a total generating capacity of 49,470 megawatts, the plants supply approximately one-third of the country's total electric power output.

Japan is dependent on foreign imports of oil, coal and natural gas for about 80 percent of its energy resources. The island nation cannot tap energy from neighbours via power transmission lines or pipelines. The government has made nuclear a cornerstone of the diversified mix of thermal, hydroelectric and renewables to help guarantee energy security by reducing its reliance on oil from the Middle East.

Unlike coal and oil-fired generators, nuclear plants do not emit greenhouse gases. Seen as a key factor in meeting Japan's Kyoto Protocol target of reducing greenhouse gases, nuclear is also a more secure energy source than the world's finite reserves of oil, coal and natural gas.

Lying on the Pacific Ocean's volcanic Ring of Fire, earthquake-prone Japan has passed building regulations to try to ensure nuclear plants can withstand strong quakes. These include building on solid bedrock and putting up anti-tsunami walls at coastal plants.

Since the 1980s, Japan has transported spent nuclear fuel to processing plants in France, Belgium and Britain. The transport ships take about two months to reach their destinations.

Japan is moving towards creating a "closed" domestic nuclear fuel cycle where it recycles its own spent fuel and then burns recovered uranium and plutonium as mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel.

Japan's worst accident at a nuclear plant occurred in August 2004 when four workers were killed after a burst pipe leaked super-heated steam at the Mihama Nuclear Power Plant in western Japan.

In 2002, around 35 cases of falsified plant inspection reports were discovered at 20 plants.

Two safety organisations were subsequently formed, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) and the Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organisation (JNES), to re-establish public trust and confidence.

In May 2007, Japan had one nuclear plant under construction; the 912 megawatt TOMARI-3 power plant in Hokkaido, being built by HEPCO with a completion date of 2009.

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