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Japan closes Hamaoka nuclear reactor

The operator of the vulnerable Hamaoka nuclear power plant in central Japan says it has agreed to the government’s request to shut it, amid safety fears.

The plant about 200km west of Tokyo is known as Japan’s “most dangerous” plant because it sits in an area where a major earthquake is expected within three decades.

Chubu Electric Power Company convened a special board meeting to decide whether to accept prime minister Naoto Kan’s directive to close the plant’s three reactors while the company builds new safety features.

The government reached its conclusion after evaluating the country’s 54 reactors for quake and tsunami vulnerability after the 11 March disasters that heavily damaged the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in north-east Japan.

“We understand that the prime minister’s request is based on increased concerns over nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant accident,” Chubu president Akihisa Mizuno said.

About 80,000 people live within a 9.7km radius of the plant.

Nuclear energy provides more than one-third of Japan’s electricity, and shutting the plant is likely to exacerbate power shortages expected this summer.

The three reactors account for more than 10% of Chubu’s power supply. The Hamaoka plant is a key power provider to central Japan, including nearby Aichi, home of Toyota Motor Corp.

After the earthquake and tsunami, Chubu planned safety measures that include building a 12m high seawall nearly 1.6km long.

It also promised to install more emergency backup generators and other equipment and improve the water tightness of the reactor buildings.

The Hamaoka plant lacks a concrete sea barrier now. Sand hills between the ocean and the plant are up to 15.2m high, deemed enough to defend against a tsunami around 7.9m high, officials said.

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