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May 21, 2013

Japan may restart more nuclear reactors in the fall of 2013

Industry minister Toshimitsu Motegi said that some of the country’s idled nuclear reactors might resume operations this autumn at the earliest after undergoing a new safety assessment process.

To restart idled reactors, it is necessary to obtain understanding of host local communities. In this regard, Motegi said the government will make efforts to win local consent.

Of the nation’s 50 commercial reactors, only two are currently online amid safety concerns over nuclear power in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima No. 1 plant disaster.

Tepco shares have surged on hopes that there will be reactor restarts later this year. Tokyo Electric Power, operator of the stricken Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, surged for a fourth consecutive day, bringing gains to 59 percent in the period amid speculation it will apply soon to restart idled reactors.

Areva expects Japan over the next few year to restart two-thirds of its atomic plants that were idled after the 2011 Fukushima accident. Half a dozen reactors may restart by the end of this year in addition to the two that resumed operations in 2012.



Areva expects 200 million euros ($260 million) in orders for safety equipment and services this year, up from 150 million euros in 2012, as nuclear operators worldwide respond to demands for higher security from regulators.

In January, the new nuclear agency released a list of its proposed safety regulations, which include higher walls to protect against tsunamis, additional backup power sources for the cooling systems and construction of specially hardened earthquake-proof command centers. The rules surprised many for their toughness, though skeptics worry that industry supporters in the government will manage to get around the regulations.

According to a report by the newspaper Asahi Shimbun, none of Japan’s 16 undamaged commercial nuclear plants would pass the new standards. The agency has said the new guidelines will be finalized and put in place by July 18.

World Health Study

A World Health Organization study focused on cancer incidence, not deaths, and some of the cancers listed are serious but have good rates of survival.

According to the study, girls exposed as infants to radioactivity in the most contaminated regions of Fukushima Prefecture faced a 70 percent higher risk of developing thyroid cancer than would be expected normally. The report pointed out, however, that the normal risk of thyroid cancer was just 0.75 percent, and that the additional lifetime risk would raise that to 1.25 percent.

Girls exposed to radioactivity as infants in the most heavily contaminated areas also had a 6 percent higher risk of developing breast cancer, and a 4 percent higher risk of developing cancers that cause tumors. Meanwhile, boys exposed as infants had a 7 percent higher chance of developing leukemia.

The study also said that about a third of the emergency workers who remained to try to stabilize the Fukushima Daiichi plant were estimated to have a slightly increased risk of developing leukemia, thyroid cancer and other types of cancer.

Some local government officials in Fukushima criticized the report for identifying specific areas and their associated exposure estimates. Radiation exposure is a sensitive topic in Japan, where victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings often experienced discrimination in marriage, for example, because of feared health effects.

“I feel extreme anger over this excessive analysis, which will plunge more residents into fear,” Mayor Norio Kanno of Iitate Village, told N.H.K. Iitate was one of the areas identified in the W.H.O. report as heavily contaminated. Villagers there are among tens of thousands of evacuees who have not been able to return home.

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