Rising costs from gas and oil are sited by supporters of a programme to bring reactors back on line, but ageing plant and risks raise widespread concern
An otherwise unremarkable town in south-west Japan will be propelled this week to the forefront of the country’s biggest experiment with nuclear power since the Fukushima disaster in March 2011.
After months of debate about safety, Japan will begin producing nuclear energy for the first time in almost two years close to the town of Satsumasendai as early as Tuesday.
Restarting one of the Sendai nuclear plant’s two 30-year-old reactors represents a victory for the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who insists that without nuclear energy the Japanese economy will buckle beneath the weight of expensive oil and gas imports.
But his call for Japan to confront its Fukushima demons has been greeted with scepticism by most voters, whose opposition to nuclear restarts remains firm, even in the face of rising electricity bills.
Just over four years since Fukushima Daiichi had a triple meltdown, triggering the world’s worst nuclear crisis for 25 years, Japan remains deeply divided over its future energy mix.
The 2011 disaster forced the evacuation of 160,000 people and the closure of all the country’s 48 working reactors for safety checks.
Opinions among the 100,000 residents of Satsumasendai range from anxiety to relief.
Local campaigners say the plant operators – Kyushu Electric – and local authorities have yet to explain how they would quickly evacuate tens of thousands of residents in the event of a Fukushima-style meltdown.
“There are schools and hospitals near the plant, but no one has told us how children and the elderly would be evacuated,” said Yoshitaka Mukohara, a representative of a group opposing the Sendai restart.
“Naturally there will be gridlock caused by the sheer number of vehicles, landslides, and damaged roads and bridges.”
A survey by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper found that only two of 85 medical institutes and 15 of 159 nursing and other care facilities within a 30 km radius of the Sendai plant had proper evacuation plans.
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