The powerful earthquake that hit Japan’s western coast on New Year’s Day has underscored the country’s exposure to natural disasters, casting fresh doubt over a push to bring its nuclear capacity back online.
Nuclear power plants dot the coast of mountainous Japan, which is prone to earthquakes and tsunamis due to its location on the seismically active “Ring of Fire” around the Pacific Ocean.
Monday’s magnitude 7.6 earthquake, which has killed more than 80 people in the Hokuriku region, destroyed infrastructure and left homes without power, struck days after regulators lifted an operational ban on Tokyo Electric’s (9501.T) Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant.
Tepco hopes to gain local permission to restart the plant, which is around 120 kilometres from the quake’s epicentre and has been offline since 2012. The utility was banned in 2021 from operating the plant due to safety breaches including a failure to protect nuclear materials.
“The Japanese public is still generally less positive toward nuclear power now than they were before the Fukushima disaster,” analysts at Rystad Energy wrote in a client note.
“As a result, public sentiment – and potentially government policy – is likely to be sensitive to any new power-plant disruptions caused by the most recent quake or any future ones.”
Japan had planned to phase out nuclear power after the March 2011 tsunami and Fukushima meltdown, but rising energy prices and repeated power crunches have prompted a shift towards restarting idled capacity and developing next-generation reactors.