All eyes on Oi

Things are complicated in Japan right now around nuclear power, but let me give you the crash course.

Because local authorities have historically had a say in restarting reactors, over the last 14 months since the Fukushima triple meltdown, all of the 50 functioning reactors in Japan have had to go down for refueling.  None of the local governments have said they are willing to have the reactors turned back on, so they are all off currently, representing about 30% of Japan’s generating capacity.

Beyond the local opposition, after Fukushima the nuclear regulator was forced to conduct “stress tests” at all the reactors in the country.  This is mostly a paper/computer exercise, in which very little that is real is tested, but it is designed to make people feel good about restarting reactors.  The stress tests have been completed, but only for two reactors (at the plant called Oi, but sometimes written Ohi) have had their results reviewed by the nuclear regulator and approved.

Because the old nuclear regulators was hopelessly corrupt and completely controlled by the nuclear industry.  And because this collusion had clearly played a part in numerous accident creating and worsening affects around Fukushima, the Japanese government agreed to close the regulator and create a brand new one.  They set a firm date to close the old regulator, but they failed to get the new one started by that deadline and now there is no regulator with a mandate operating in Japan and no additional stress tests can be approved, nor will they anytime soon.

So everyone is looking at Oi.  It is the only reactor which legally can start.  Recent polls show that 70% of the Japanese people dont want this reactor to restart.  At the same time the federal government which fears a prolonged nuclear free Japan state is pushing for these reactors to re-open, so are the nuclear utilities which have tremendous financial incentive to get these reactors which they have paid for running again.  The local assembly around the Oi reactors just voted to approve the restart but at least some of the regional governors are highly opposed.

The fate of these reactors may well determine the future of nuclear power world wide.