Eight years after the Fukushima disaster that damaged the Onagawa power plant by tsunami and earthquake, Tohoku Electric Power Company has finally won the initial regulatory approval to start a reactor again in Japan.
Subject to a public consultation period, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority has given the first green light to Tohoku Electric to restart the No.2 reactor in Onagawa. During the earthquake in March 2011, Onagawa was the closest nuclear station to the epicenter of magnitude-9 quake and that triggered a tsunami which lead to death of nearly 20,000 people along with causing the worst atomic disaster after 1986’s Chernobyl.
The nuclear station was damaged due to the tsunami but survived owing to its intact cooling system. The system also saved the reactor from threats of meltdown similar to the one that occurred in Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi station in the south.
Further approvals will determine the restart of the project. Consent from local authorities are also required but the guarantee is not determined. The nuclear reactor’s basic design is a boiling water reactor, similar to the one that melted down in the Fukushima disaster.
The company is expected to spend US$ 3.1 million (340 billion yen) on upgraded safety for the Onagawa plant. It also includes a wall that stands 29 meters above sea level and stretches 800 meters in length to protect against future tsunami attacks.
The restart of the reactor will help in saving 35 billion yen utility in fuel cost each year. The Fukushima disaster had led to shutdown of 54 operational reactors that provided electricity to one third of Japan. So, all the operations had to be relicensed under the new standards as the disaster highlighted regulatory and operational failings.
The government AND Japan’s resurgent nuclear industry will fail to provide one fifth of the country with electricity by 2030 even after the approval.
The stigma of Fukushima still lives as the older BWR technology is being used. Nine reactors have restarted and all of them are pressurized water reactors existing far away from Tokyo.