May 7, 2012

All of Japan's nuclear plants shut down

Ikata Wind Farm near the
Ikata Nuclear Plant
Japan was without electricity from nuclear power for the first time in four decades when the reactor at Tomari nuclear plant on the northern island of Hokkaido went offline for mandatory routine maintenance.

After last year's March 11 earthquake and tsunami set off meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, no reactor halted for checkups has been restarted amid public worries about the safety of nuclear technology.

Desperate to avert possible power shortages this summer, the government has tried to convince the public to allow some of the reactors to be restarted. It has conducted simulated stress tests to show whether reactors can withstand the sort of immense earthquake and tsunami that knocked out the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

However, the public has not accepted the tests, which were conducted largely behind closed doors. A number of critics have demanded more sweeping changes, like the creation of a more independent nuclear regulatory agency.

Cozy ties between officials in the Trade Ministry, which both regulates and promotes nuclear power, and plant operators are widely seen as having left the Fukushima plant without adequate defenses against natural disaster. This distrust fed criticism that the authorities failed to protect the public after the accident, and instead tried to cover up the full dangers.

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