Japan has restarted its first nuclear reactor since a country-wide shutdown two months ago, despite growing public protests in the aftermath of meltdowns at Fukushima. The process to restart the No. 3 reactor at Oi, in western Japan, began around 10:00pm Australian EST on Sunday, and was expected to reach criticality by 7:00am.
Hundreds of protesters blocked the road in front of the plant in a bid to stop it going back online. Footage streamed online showed a noisy demonstration, with protesters chanting “we are against the restart” as they faced a line of riot police.
Earlier in the day protesters took to the streets of Tokyo to oppose the restarts. Sunday’s demonstrations were the latest in a line of increasingly vocal anti-nuclear demonstrations in a country with little recent history of large-scale public protest ::::
Japan’s Prime minister Yoshihiko Noda approved the restart of the No. 3 and No. 4 Oi reactors in a bid to head off expected summer power shortages.
Japan has been operating without nuclear power since early May when the last of its 50 working reactors was shut down for a scheduled safety check.
Restarts had put been on hold as the government mulled its options following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that hit reactor cooling systems at Fukushima and as more giant quakes were forecast to strike Japan.
Prior to Fukushima, nuclear power had supplied a third of Japan’s electricity needs.
Oi operator Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) said the 1.18 million-kilowatt reactor would be operating at capacity in a week.
The utility, which serves the industrial and commercial hub of Osaka and surrounding areas, plans to reactivate the No. 4 reactor at Oi on July 14.
A series of minor glitches have been reported at the plant since June 16 with alarms activated at locations including where the plant receives external power supply and on equipment used to monitor power transmission lines.
The government has set an energy-saving target of reducing the use of electricity by up to 15 per cent from 2010 levels in the summer in KEPCO’s service area until the Oi reactors are back online.
Sunday’s protest followed a rally outside the plant on Saturday night by around 650 people, reports said.
“If the reactor is reactivated… other reactors will be restarted one after another,” 40-year-old designer Ikuyo Hattori, who came with her two children, told the Kyodo News agency.
“We cannot accept the forcible restart when the Fukushima accident has not yet been settled.”
In the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, radiation spread over homes and farmland in a large swathe of Japan’s north-east after the March 2011 disaster.
Nobody is officially recorded as having died as a direct result of the meltdowns, but tens of thousands of people were evacuated and many remain so, with warnings some areas will be uninhabitable for decades.
Fukushima Operators Repair Cooling
The operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant has managed to restore the cooling system in a pool which holds hundreds of tonnes of spent nuclear fuel at the facility.
The system had failed earlier, causing the pool’s temperature to rise.
TEPCO says a fault caused the cooling system to shutdown and then a back up system failed to activate.
The pool contains more than 1,500 nuclear assemblies, the vast majority of them containing highly radioactive fuel rods.
There were fears that if the problem was not fixed, the pool could reach its maximum safe temperature of 65 degrees Celsius by Tuesday.
The temperature in the damaged pool touched 43 degrees before the fault was fixed.
TEPCO says it should now gradually fall back to normal.
Meanwhile, Japan is due to restart its first nuclear reactor since the crisis hit Fukushima last year.
Hundreds have gathered near the plant in the town of Oi to protest the move, which has divided public opinion.
Last month, prime minister Yoshihiko Noda urged support for the plant, saying a return to nuclear power was essential for the economy.
All 50 of Japan’s plants were shut after the meltdown at Fukushima, which was triggered by a tsunami and earthquake.
image source: afp/yoshikkazu tsuno