Evaporating demand and few new projects spell trouble for technical know-how
A semicylindrical structure has been built to cover a reactor containment vessel at J-Power’s Oma nuclear power plant in Aomori Prefecture, where construction work has been suspended since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
TOKYO — Japan’s nuclear power industry is at the most critical juncture in its history. Demand for new reactors has dried up at home following the Fukushima nuclear disaster and dismal prospects for export are dual menaces threatening the fate of the country’s nuclear technology.
No domestic construction on a new reactor has begun for the past eight years. The catastrophic accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011 blew a hole in the industry’s plans. The picture for exports of Japanese nuclear power technology looks just as gloomy.
Japanese reactor manufacturers and suppliers of key components are now facing the possible loss of their technological viability.
Warning signs for the nation’s nuclear power industry are visible in many parts of the country, including Oma, a fishing town in Aomori Prefecture on the northernmost tip of the main island of Honshu.
In that coastal town, Electric Power Development, a wholesale electric utility known as J-Power, has been building a new nuclear power plant.
At the construction site stands a huge semicylindrical-shaped structure bearing the Hitachi logo. It is actually a cover to protect what is inside: a reactor containment vessel, the core equipment of a nuclear plant, from the salty sea winds.
The humidity inside the structure is kept at 50% to prevent pipes and other parts of the vessel from rusting, according to an official in charge of the construction.
J-Power started construction of its first nuclear power plant in Oma in 2008. By the time the devastating earthquakes and tsunami in 2011 triggered reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima plant, 38% of the Oma project had been completed.
But the disaster brought construction to a halt as new, stricter safety standards have been introduced, forcing the company to make necessary adjustments to the plan and design of the plant. The plant was originally envisioned to start operation in 2014, but there is no prospect for quick resumption of full-scale construction.