Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has called for the closing of a controversial nuclear plant about 120 miles southwest of Tokyo until improvements are made to protect the facility and the surrounding region against the risk of an earthquake and tsunami.
As Agence France-Presse reports, the Japanese government wants the operator of the Hamaoka nuclear plant, located in the coastal Tokai region, to close for two years while it builds a safety wall and installs other protections. The move comes as the nation continues to grapple with the world’s worst nuclear crisis in 25 years, the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex in northeast Japan, which was triggered on March 11 by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami.
“The primary reason for this request is in the interest of the safety and security of the people of Japan,”said Prime Minister Naoto Kan in a televised statement, according to CNN. “We came to this conclusion because of the grave impact on Japan’s people that could be incurred as a result of a serious accident at Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant.”
The plant’s operator, the Chubu Electric Company, reportedly has agreed to comply with the government’s request.
Just two of Hamaoka’s five reactors remain in operation. Two were shut in 2009, while a third is in the midst of maintenance checkups.
The environmental group Greenpeace hailed the announcement. “Greenpeace welcomes Prime Minister Kan’s request to close Hamaoka, one of the most dangerous nuclear reactors in Japan,” said Junichi Sato, the executive director of Greenpeace, Japan. “This is the first time a prime minister has directly requested a nuclear plant in Japan be closed. However, it cannot be the last.”
Hamaoka lies on top of a fault line that geological experts say is long overdue for a major earthquake. With its low sea wall and close proximity to the ocean on Japan’s east coast, the plant shares some of the characteristics that made Fukushima Daiichi so vulnerable.
Separately, as the Los Angeles Times reports, rescue workers entered one of Fukushima’s damaged reactors on Thursday for the first time since the disaster began. Because of the high radiation levels, the crew was able to stay only for 10 minutes, but while inside they managed to install a ventilation system to reduce the levels of radioactivity.