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Kyushu Electric Starts First Reactor Since Fukushima Crisis

Japan May Be Nuclear Free by May
Kyushu Electric Power Co.'s Genkai nuclear power plant in Genkai, Saga Prefecture, Japan. Source: Kyodo via AP Images

Kyushu Electric Power Co. started a reactor at one of its nuclear plants, the first unit to come online since the Fukushima crisis eight months ago, the worst atomic catastrophe since Chernobyl in 1986.

Kyushu Electric started the 1,180-megawatt No. 4 reactor at Genkai in southwestern Japan at 11 p.m. yesterday, the Fukuoka, Japan-based company said in a statement on its website. The unit will start delivering electricity to the power grid later today, the company said.

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami wrecked the Fukushima nuclear plant, causing explosions, meltdowns and damage to livestock, horticulture, fisheries and forestry businesses. About 160,000 people have fled the radiation emitting from the plant about 220 kilometers (137 miles) north of Tokyo.

“In the aftermath of the Great East Japan earthquake and triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi, it is unthinkable for any nuclear plant to be restarted before proper safety checks or consultation with the public is conducted,” Junichi Sato, Greenpeace Japan’s executive director, said in a statement. Kyushu Electric must “bring forward the regular maintenance planned next month.”

Kyushu Electric is at the center of a controversy involving attempts by Japan’s power companies to influence public opinion in favor of nuclear energy after Fukushima undermined public confidence in the industry.

Swaying Opinion

The company asked affiliates to send e-mails to a public forum in June supporting the restart of other reactors at Genkai closed for checks.

No nuclear reactor idled for regular maintenance or safety checks has restarted since the three reactor meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima plant. Japan will have no nuclear plants operating by April if no restarts are authorized, raising concerns about power shortages.

The Genkai reactor automatically shut down because of a malfunction in a vacuum condenser on Oct. 4 caused by human error. Kyushu Electric submitted a report on the incident to Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency on Oct. 21. The nuclear safety watchdog said on Oct. 31 the report is “mostly appropriate.”

“The shutdown was caused by procedural mistakes and there is no need to carry out large-scale inspections,” Hiroyuki Terui, an official in the Nuclear Emergency Preparedness Division at NISA, said yesterday.

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