May 6, 2012

Last Active Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Shut Down Saturday

For the first time in four decades, Japan will be without nuclear power, as the last of its 50 reactors was shut down Saturday for what is being called routine maintenance, various media outlets have reported.

According to BBC News reports, operations at the third reactor at the Tomari plant in Hokkaido prefecture was scheduled to have ceased by 14:00 GMT (2:00pm Eastern).

That means that for the first time in over 40 years, a country which up until last year had received 30% of its energy from atomic sources would be without an active nuclear power facility.

The shutdown comes in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which resulted in a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The natural disaster caused cooling systems to go offline at four of that facility's six reactors, causing them to explode, triggering radiation leaks, and forcing thousands of people to be evacuated from their homes, the British news organization added.

The move was greeted by celebratory marches by thousands of Japanese, waving giant fish-shaped banners that have become a symbol of protest against nuclear power, the Associated Press (AP) said.

Speaking to the crowds that had gathered, one activist, Masashi Ishikawa, called it "a historic day" and said that, despite the presence of so many nuclear facilities in Japan, "not a single one will be up and running today, and that's because of our efforts."

"Since the Fukushima disaster, all the country's reactors have been shut down for routine maintenance. They must withstand tests against earthquakes and tsunamis, and local authorities must give their consent in order for plants to restart," BBC News said. "So far, none have."

"Two reactors at the Ohi plant in western Japan have been declared safe," the UK media outlet added. "The government says they should be restarted to combat looming shortages. However, regional authorities would still have to give their approval."

The shutdown of the Tomari plant coincided with Children's Day in Japan.