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History of Automation: The March 11th Tohoku Earthquake and What it Means for Nuclear Energy

Today marks the 5th anniversary of the devastating earthquake and resulting tsunami that claimed over 15,000 lives and destroyed many towns and villages on Japan’s coast. The damage also caused the nuclear plant in Fukushima to experience meltdown, and the cleanup efforts of this disaster are still underway.

Following the meltdown of the Fukushima reactor, Japan’s nuclear facilities were closed. However, because Japan received 30% of its energy from nuclear-powered sources, the energy deficit had to be made up by the import of fossil fuels in the form of coal, oil, and natural gas. There are 45 new coal-fired power plants planned to open, which will further increase Japan’s carbon footprint.

However, Japan is slowly beginning the controversial process of reopening its nuclear power facilities. The first reopened in August 2015, and more are planned to reopen this year. This should help offset some of Japan’s growing carbon output. In addition, renewable energy sources such as solar energy are gaining momentum, though they currently remain under 15% – well under the amount of energy Japan once produced using nuclear power.

Japan’s government and nuclear regulatory agencies’ largest hurdle in reopening nuclear plants is the lack of public trust that has come in the wave of the Tohoku earthquake disaster. These will need to be addressed, and the regulatory agency staffing numbers and resources must be increased before the public can feel secure that there is proper oversight of nuclear equipment and facilities.

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