Election a blow to Japan’s nuclear restart plan

A planned restart of Japan’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, the world’s largest, could be off the table after Sunday's surprise election of an anti-nuclear governor in Niigata prefecture.

Ryuichi Yoneyama, who has never held political office, won the governorship with a promise to keep the 8212 MW plant (pictured) shut down in response to safety fears. Along with 46 of Japan’s 48 nuclear power plants, the plant has been offline since 2011’s Fukushima disaster. However, the nation’s nuclear regulator placed two of its reactors on a priority list for safety screening in August 2015, a move seen at the time as accelerating its path to restart. 

Commentators called Yoneyama’s election a significant setback for the government’s energy strategy, which includes restarting many of the nation’s reactors after implementing stringent safety upgrades in order to bring nuclear power generation to 20-22 per cent by 2030.

Shares in the plant’s operator Tepco fell by 8 per cent in response to the news.

A September report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) noted that Japan’s post-Fukushima nuclear shutdown has resulted in a 30 per cent power supply gap and a subsequent 94 per cent dependence on imported LNG, oil and coal, while power sector emissions climbed by 25 per cent.

The IEA said it is “important for the nuclear industry to be re-established in Japan, provided that safety is maintained at the highest standards possible.”

Yoneyama’s election follows that of another governor, Satoshi Mitazono of Kagoshima prefecture, who was elected on an anti-nuclear platform in July. The prefecture’s Sendai power plant was restarted in August 2015, but Mitazono has called for it to be shut down for further safety checks.


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