Japan’s Tokyo Electric Power Company [Tepco], the operator of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima power plant, has shut its last operating nuclear reactor, leaving the country with only one nuclear facility still operating.
Tepco said on Sunday it shut down the number 6 reactor at its Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant, the world's biggest nuclear power plant, raising concerns about a power shortage this summer.
"We are currently closely studying the summer power supply situation. We will do our utmost to operate in a stable way and maintain our facilities," Toshio Nishizawa, Tepco president, said in a statement.
Japan has 54 reactors, but since the quake and tsunami last March triggered the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years at the Fukushima plant, it has been unable to restart any reactors that have undergone maintenance due to public safety concerns.
Out of the 17 reactors owned by Tepco, which provides electricity to about 45 million people in the Tokyo area, all six at its devastated Fukushima Daiichi plant are off line, as well as four at its neighbouring Fukushima Daini plant.
At its Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant, 230km northwest of Tokyo, three remain offline after a magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck the area in July 2007 and small fires followed. Four others are under maintenance.
Japan's last running reactor, Hokkaido Electric's Tomari number 3, is set to go off line on May 5 for maintenance.
Junichi Sato, Greenpeace Japan's executive director, said that the country could survive without rushing to restart its nuclear sector.
"Japan is practically nuclear free, and the impact on daily life is invisible," Sato said in a statement.
To avoid blackouts, utilities have restarted old fossil fuel plants and have called for power conservation.
Japan's nuclear safety watchdog and another experts' panel are currently reviewing stress test results submitted by utilities that gauge how reactors can withstand extreme events such as a huge tsunami.
Once they give approval, ministers including Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda can give the green-light for the restarts, but only after they deem there is enough local and public support, but surveys show this may not be easy.
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|William A. Cook|