Japan restarts nuclear reactor for first time in nearly 2 years

2015-08-11 13:14
Men wearing protective suits and masks work in front of welding storage tanks for radioactive water, under construction. (Toru Hanai, AFP)

Men wearing protective suits and masks work in front of welding storage tanks for radioactive water, under construction. (Toru Hanai, AFP)

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Tokyo - Japan restarted a nuclear reactor for the first time in nearly two years on Tuesday despite lingering public fears of atomic power following the country's worst accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in 2011.

Kyushu Electric Power Co said it brought reactor 1 at the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant back online at 10:30, about 50km from the active Sakurajima volcano on the southern island of Kyushu.

The company said it would start generating and delivering electricity on Friday, and enter commercial operation at the plant in early September, a year after regulators approved the resumption of its two reactors. It is expected to restart the other unit in October.

More than 100 people held a protest rally on Tuesday in front of the Sendai plant to oppose the restart.

"The steady process of restarting idled nuclear plants is necessary for sound economic growth and the stability of people's lives," Industry Minister Yoichi Miyazawa told a news conference.

"In the event of an accident, the government will deal with it with responsibility," Miyazawa said.

'Too loose'

Critics say that nobody has taken responsibility for the 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, the world's worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl accident.

The Fukushima plant suffered meltdowns at three of its six reactors in March 2011 after a tsunami swept through the facilities.

More than 110 000 residents have not been able to return home in the areas near the plant due to radioactive contamination.

The Sendai reactor is also the first to come back online under updated regulations imposed following the Fukushima disaster.

The other 47 units remain suspended as power companies depend more on fossil-fuel imports to generate electricity.

The Citizens' Commission on Nuclear Energy, a group of academics and nuclear experts, said in a statement the new regulations were "too loose" for running nuclear reactors in natural disaster-prone Japan.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority has so far green-lighted the restart of three other nuclear reactors, two units at the Takahama Nuclear Power Station in Fukui prefecture and one at the Ikata Nuclear Power Plant in Ehime prefecture.

An April court injunction prohibited Kansai Electric Power from resuming operations of the two units at Takahama due to safety problems.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been eager to reactivate idled nuclear reactors since his conservative Liberal Democratic Party retook power in December 2012.

Japan plans to have nuclear power account for 20% to 22% of its total electricity supply in 2030, compared with roughly 30% before the Fukushima disaster.

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