Japan’s Oldest Nuclear Reactor

On January 8th, Guardian reported that James Cameron had bought the film rights to “The Last Train to Hiroshima: The Survivors Look Back”, Charles Pellegrino’s non-fiction account of the 1945 atomic bomb blasts.  Despite not a few people in Japan, the only country to have suffered the devastating effects of nuclear weapons in wartime, are still sensitive to a nuclear power, Japan has embraced the peaceful use of nuclear technology to provide a substantial portion of its electricity primary because Japan has few natural resources of its own, depending on imports for some 80% of its primary energy needs. 

Today, nuclear energy accounts for almost 30% of the country’s total electricity production, 47.5 GWe of capacity (net).  So it is natural that FUKUI (Kyodo) Local governments on February 21st approved Japan Atomic Power Co.’s plan to continue running the nation’s oldest commercial nuclear reactor through 2016.  The No. 1 reactor at Tsuruga power plant began operating in 1970. It will enter its 41st year on March 14.  Eight other reactors in Japan are expected to reach the 40-year milestone by 2015.  Among other nuclear power companies, Kansai Electric Power Co. plans to keep its No. 1 reactor at the Mihama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture running steady. The reactor will mark its 40th year of operation in November.


Expecting several reactors to reach the 40-year milestone in near future and based on Japan’s energy policy driven by considerations of energy security,


The main elements regarding nuclear power are:

 1)continue to have nuclear power as a major element of electricity production;

2)recycle uranium and plutonium from used fuel, initially in LWRs, and have reprocessing domestically from 2005;

3)steadily develop fast breeder reactors in order to improve uranium utilisation dramatically;and,

4)promote nuclear energy to the public, emphasising safety and non-proliferation


 in 2008 the Nuclear Power Engineering Center was established to develop the next generation LWRs adopting innovative technologies to aim for the world standard LWRs.  The next-generation LWRs, based on ABWR and APWR, are to lead to a 20% reduction in construction and generation costs and a 20% reduction in spent fuel quantity, with improved safety and 3-year construction and longer life.  They will have at least 5% enriched fuel and an 80-year operating life, and be deployed from about 2020.

Although it may be hard to supply enough energy domestically unlike U.S. and to maintain the competitiveness of Japanese companies such as Toshiba unless otherwise it utilizes a nuclear power and develops the next generation LWRs, I worry a little about the safety by rushing diversification of energy source due to the rising costs of importing energy and keeping international competitiveness in nuclear power market too much.



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2 responses to “Japan’s Oldest Nuclear Reactor

  1. dfp99

    I’m intrigued by the initial reference to domestic nuclear opinion in Japan. One of the bigger points of contention about using nuclear power in the United States arises over national security issues. Many people here are afraid of terrorists using nuclear power plants to harm our citizens or the expansion of the world’s nuclear arsenal.

    Japan has an interesting case where national security concerns can be cited by those for and against nuclear power. Those against nuclear power can use similar arguments to those I outlined above, while those for nuclear power can mention decreasing international dependence for energy.

    Did you find anything in your reading concerning popular domestic support for the expansion of their nuclear energy program? I’m just curious if the average person in Tokyo is more concerned about importing fuel for electricity from abroad then with the possibility of nuclear terrorism. Since they have such a good track record with it as a power source, based on what you’ve related, perhaps it is no longer much of a concern. And given how much the average American laments importing oil for transportation when the topic is discussed, I guess it’s not a surprise. No one likes being the dependent one.

    I think the element of post WWII anti-nuclear sentiment that must have existed just makes this whole concept fascinating. I can’t even begin to imagine how I would react to the situation. I wish you would have focused a bit more on that, but your post was still informative and insightful.

  2. chrisvdh

    dfp99, I found this report (http://www.rice.edu/energy/publications/docs/JES_NuclearEnergyPolicyPublicOpinion.pdf) from Rice University that details Japanese popular opinion towards nuclear energy. It’s 10 years old, but still has some interesting information.

    In particular, it points out that traditionally, the Japanese are less involved as a people with the decision making process of their elected officials than in other democracies. Bureaucrats have been largely trusted to make decisions in the best interest of the people, however, this has begun to change. Particularly due to the Lost Decade, the Japanese are less trusting now of central authority, leading to a rise in local opposition to nuclear expansion. Particularly in response to events such as the Tokaimura criticality accident, more view nuclear energy as “dangerous.”

    However, with nearly a third of their electricity coming from nuclear, it would be both difficult and expensive for the Japanese to transition away from nuclear energy.

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