Looks like another nuclear reactor, the number 6 reactor at Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant (the world's largest nuclear power plant) in Japan will be put off line on Monday for maintenance. This will leave the country with just ONE out of its 54 reactors operational.
And it gets worse: this last and final reactor (Hokkaido Electric's Tomari number 3) may be shut down as early as May, which raises the possibility of power shortages across the entire nation as demand is expected to increase in the hot summer months.
Japanese reactors are usually taken off line every 13 months for check-ups. This is a regular thing. What ISN'T regular, however, is the fact that ever since the Fukushima crisis, none of the reactors that have been shut down for checks have been allowed to start-up again.
Before the crisis, Japan depended on nuclear power for 1/3rd of its electricity. However, Japan's government does not want to restart the reactors until "stress tests" prove that they are safe and local leaders, fearing a political backlash, are reluctant to give their approval.
Government authorities are requiring stress tests as well as the making of any necessary modifications to improve safety. These stress tests are designed to assess how well the plants can withstand earthquakes, tsunamis, storms, loss of power and other crises.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda promises to reduce Japan's reliance on nuclear power over time and plans to lay out a new energy policy by the summer. Interested observers are pretty mixed on whether this can be pulled off, but we should probably keep in mind that Japan is indeed a country well-noted for not taking its promises or words lightly.
Junichi Sato, Greenpeace Japan's executive director, said that the country could survive without rushing to restart its nuclear sector, that "Japan is practically nuclear free, and the impact on daily life is invisible. With proper demand management, energy efficiency measures, and more than sufficient backup generation in place, there is no excuse for shortages in the coming months, and absolutely no need to rush restarts of nuclear plants."
On the other hand, last year, big companies had ran factories at night and at weekends after the government ordered them to cut their electricity consumption by 15%. Manufacturers have warned that more production may have to be moved abroad if the situation persists, which would damage Japan's economy.
Currently, Japan has already temporarily turned to oil and coal generation plants to make up for the shortfall, and businesses are still being required to reduce electricity use to help with conservation efforts.
I don't know about you readers, but if I were a resident in Japan, now would probably be a good time to invest in some solar panels. And if they were too expensive or money was tight, then maybe some oil companies on the Nikkei as well?
Ever so Watchful,
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