International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director-general Yukiya Amano is of the opinion that the new Japanese government of Shinzo Abe (elected by a landslide vote in December) will not phase out the country’s use of nuclear power.
Following the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011, caused by a devastating earthquake and tsunami (which left more than 15 000 people dead and nearly 5 000 missing), the previous Japanese government decided to phase out all nuclear power by the 2030s. In his election campaign, Abe stated he would retain nuclear power.
“In January I went to Japan and had meetings with Prime Minister Abe and other Ministers,” Amano said in response to a question from Engineering News Online. “My impression is that the leaders of the new government are more supportive of nuclear power. They are not talking about phasing out nuclear power by [the] 2030s. This is not the policy being considered by the Abe government. But it will take them time to establish a new energy policy. I don’t think that a new energy policy will be announced shortly.”
In an address to the Institute for Security Studies, in Johannesburg, on Friday, Amano noted that Japan had 55 nuclear power reactors of which only two were currently in operation. “Because of this, Japan has to buy oil. For the first time in 30 years, the country recorded a deficit [because it had to import oil]. The deficit is increasing. Pollution is increasing [because of the great increase in the use of oil, to fuel reactivated old power plants]. Japan is seriously considering changing course.”
He also reported that the IAEA will soon be sending a mission to Japan to help with the decontamination of the area affected by the Fukushima accident. He added that there were now more than 60 technologies available for decontamination.
“The Fukushima accident was a very strong wake-up call on safety,” affirmed Amano. “The IAEA is implementing an action plan to increase safety. Nuclear power is safer now than before Fukushima. All countries with nuclear reactors have conducted stress tests.” The ability of existing nuclear power plants to survive extreme events has been reviewed worldwide and additional safety features have been introduced.
“Fukushima Daiichi was crippled by a great earthquake and tsunami. But there were also human errors. There was a weak regulator,” he warned. Strong regulators are required to ensure nuclear safety.