Another Japanese nuclear reactor was taken off line for maintenance yesterday, leaving the country with only one of its 54 reactors operational following last year's devastating tsunami.
The last reactor is expected to be shut down by early May, increasing the chances of power shortages across the nation as demand increases in the hot summer months.
The No 6 reactor at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa complex was taken off line early yesterday by the Tokyo Electric Power Company. The utility also runs the plant in Fukushima, north-east of Tokyo, that suffered meltdowns, explosions and radiation leaks after the devastating earthquake and tsunami on 11 March last year. Japanese reactors are taken off line every 13 months for regular checks. With concerns over nuclear safety high, none of the reactors that have been shut down for checks, and none that were already off-line at the time of the disaster, has been allowed to restart.
The last reactor, on the northern island of Hokkaido, will be shut down in May. The timing for when any reactors will be restarted remains unclear.
Before the crisis, Japan depended on nuclear power for one-third of its electricity. The government wants to restart reactors as soon as "stress tests" prove they are safe but local leaders, fearing a political backlash, are reluctant to give their approval.
Authorities have required all reactors to undergo the stress tests, similar to those used in France and elsewhere in Europe, in order to assess how well the plants can withstand earthquakes, tsunamis, storms, loss of power and other crises.
The Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, has promised to reduce Japan's reliance on nuclear power. The country has temporarily turned to oil and coal generation plants to make up for the shortfall.