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Japan shuts down last nuclear reactor amid protests

It’s not clear whether the Tomari plant will reopen as demonstrators called for the country to renounce nuclear power.

Image: AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye

JAPAN HAS CLOSED down its last working nuclear reactor for maintenance, leaving the country without nuclear energy for the first time in decades.

The Tomari plant is the last of Japan’s 50 nuclear power stations to be shut down for works since a powerful earthquake and tsunami severely damaged the Fukushima reactors in March 2011.

Each reactor has been closed for routine maintenance to secure them against further earthquakes, the BBC reports. However, none have since reopened and there have been public protests against the resumption of nuclear power.

Thousands of people marched to celebrate the shutdown in Tokyo, waving banners shaped as giant fish that have become a potent anti-nuclear symbol.

“Today is a historical day,” Masashi Ishikawa shouted to a crowd gathered at a Tokyo park, some holding traditional “koinobori” carp-shaped banners for Children’s Day that have become a symbol of the anti-nuclear movement.

“There are so many nuclear plants, but not a single one will be up and running today, and that’s because of our efforts,” Ishikawa said.

The activists said it is fitting that the day Japan is stopping nuclear power coincides with Children’s Day because of their concerns about protecting children from radiation, which Fukushima Dai-ichi is still spewing into the air and water.

The government has been eager to restart nuclear reactors, warning about blackouts and rising carbon emissions as Japan is forced to turn to oil and gas for energy.

Japan now requires reactors to pass new tests to withstand quakes and tsunami and to gain local residents’ approval before restarting.

The shutdown of the Tomari plant is a gradual process. According to Reuters, the reactor’s operators began lowering its output at 4am today, and it is expected to be shut off completely by early tomorrow morning.

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Michael Freeman

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