Japan to phase out nuclear power

Historic news that Japan will phase out nuclear power has rounded off yet another terrible week for the global nuclear industry.

Japan's decision to end its reliance on nuclear power by the 2030s means it will join countries such as Germany and Switzerland in turning away from nuclear power after last year's Fukushima disaster.

This is an incredible step forward for a country that was once 30 percent dependent on nuclear power and follows a wave of public protests in a country not known for civil disobedience.

The decision comes as two nuclear reactors are out of action in Belgium after indications of cracks were found in their reactor vessels.

And adding to the industry's woes this week, Spain said it will close its Garoña nuclear power plant in July 2013, while Quebec's new government has confirmed it will also close the Gentilly-2 nuclear reactor.

These are momentous times.

Greenpeace has cautiously welcomed Japan's new “energy and environment strategy” as a long overdue decision. Still, we believe 18 years is still far too long to wait for a full nuclear phase-out.

Japan had already shown this summer that it could live without nuclear power after  no power shortages or blackouts were reported despite just two of its 50 nuclear reactors being in operation.

The road ahead is abundantly clear.

Greenpeace has shown in its Energy [R]evolution scenario that with a quick uptake of renewable energy and energy efficiency, Japan can enjoy an economic recovery and meet its 2020 target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It does not need to restart any of the nuclear reactors shut down after the Fukushima disaster.

In Europe, the fact that the Doel 3 and Tihange 2 reactors in Belgium are out of action after inspections indicated cracks in their reactor vessels underscores the ongoing risk to public safety that nuclear power poses.

It’s possible that the damage is so great that these reactors will never be restarted.

If that isn’t chilling enough, there’s a chance that a number of other reactors across the globe might be similarly affected. All these reactors had their vessels made by the now defunct Dutch company, RDM (Rotterdamsche Droogdok Maatschappij).

Belgian nuclear watchdog FANC organised a meeting of nuclear safety authorities in Brussels last month to discuss the issue. Officials from Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the US and Argentina attended the talks.

Greenpeace is alarmed, however, that the operators and nuclear regulators of the reactors in these other countries claim they have no problems at all.

We are calling for all of these reactors to be immediately shutdown to allow for proper and thorough investigations and to ensure public safety.

On a more positive note, however, public safety took a significant step forward in Spain this week when it was announced that Spain’s Garoña nuclear power plant would be shutdown in July 2013.

The plant’s operators were hoping to extend the aging plant’s lifetime until 2019, which would have cost an estimated 120 million euros (US$153 million) in modernisation and safety upgrades, but this week finally admitted defeat.

This should signal the start of Spain’s renewable and sustainable future and is a huge victory for campaigners in Spain who have been fighting the good fight for 20 years.

All this makes you wonder how many more hits the nuclear industry can take. It’s battling against younger and better alternatives such as solar and wind energy - a battle that nuclear power can’t win.

(Image of Santa María de Garoña Nuclear Power Plant copyright Pedro Armestre/Greenpeace)