The three nuclear meltdowns in March 2011 were caused by reactors damaged by an earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan. Some 160,000 people had to be evacuated, and the region is still coping with the effects of the radiation. The Associate Press reports:
Water is still being pumped into the Fukushima reactors to prevent further meltdowns, and huge amounts of it, now radioactive, have leaked out of the damaged containment chambers and into other parts of the buildings. Some has leaked outside and into the sea. Meanwhile, removal of melted fuel from three of the plant's six reactors — the most challenging part of the 30-to-40-year cleanup process — will not begin until 2022.
The head of Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority, Sunichi Tanaka, said a disaster like Fukushima will not happen again, according to Al Jazeera America. The reactor that's being re-activated, one of two at the Sendai power plant, is in Japan's southwest on the island of Kyushu. But around 200 protestors outside the plant were not satisfied with the government's assurances.
“You will need to change where you evacuate to depending on the direction of the wind. The current evacuation plan is nonsense,” Shouhei Nomura, who used to work at a factory making parts for nuclear plants and one of the protestors outside the plant, said today.
Among the protestors was Naoto Kan, who was Japan's prime minister during the crisis. Kan has become an anti-nuclear activist since leaving government. The Sydney Morning Herald writes:
He said the disaster had "exposed the myth of safe and cheap nuclear power, which turned out to be dangerous and expensive". "We don't need nuclear plants," he said.
In the aftermath of Fukushima, Japan saw unprecedented protests against nuclear power, the emergence of youth activism like the country hadn't seen in decades, and the establishment of a Green Party focused on finding energy alternatives.
Robert J. Geller, a professor of geophysics at Tokyo University, writes in New Scientist that despite new safety regulations put in place since 2011, there is no way to guarantee the Sendai reactors safety, especially given its location:
The Sendai plant faces some specific risks. The site is about 50 kilometres from a large active volcano, Sakurajima, and there are several other active volcanoes on Kyushu. A large eruption would pose obvious safety issues for the plant, but its operator has said that advance warnings of an impending eruption would allow them to take appropriate measures.
Before 2011, Japan relied on nuclear power for 30 percent of its energy. Since then, the country has struggled to find a balance of other sources of energy that would pick up the slack from nuclear reactors being switched off. Prime Minister Shinzō Abe aims to bring nuclear power back into the equation to provide 20–22 percent of the country's energy supply in the next 15 years, CNBC reports.
The return to nuclear energy comes a week after Japan commemorated the 70th anniversary of the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima, killing 140,000 and leaving a legacy of severe health problems and damage from intense radiation.
Some survivors of the atomic bombing, now mostly in their 80s, spoke out against Japan's return to nuclear power, though they pointed out that the use of nuclear weapons is different from nuclear energy. "I think that since the risk of nuclear power and the fact that human beings cannot control it has become clear, none of the reactors should be restarted," one Hiroshima survivor, 87-year-old Atsushi Hoshino told Reuters.