Japan on track for another nuclear reactor restart

The No.1 and No.2 reactor buildings at Kyushu Electric Power's Sendai nuclear power station in Satsumasendai, Kagoshima prefecture, Japan.
The No.1 and No.2 reactor buildings at Kyushu Electric Power's Sendai nuclear power station in Satsumasendai, Kagoshima prefecture, Japan.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - A local Japanese governor on Monday (Oct 26) approved the restarting of another nuclear reactor, the latest due to be switched on despite strong public opposition to atomic power after the Fukushima accident.

The key approval paves the way for Shikoku Electric Power to switch on a reactor at its Ikata power plant in the south-western prefecture of Ehime, with the restart likely to happen next year under tougher post-Fukushima safety rules.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government has been pushing for a return to nuclear power to generate electricity after Japan's several dozen reactors went offline in the wake of the 2011 disaster.

The resource-poor nation's energy bill has soared since it was forced to turn to fossil-fuel imports to plug the gap.

But the Japanese public remains wary of atomic power, and Mr Abe's push has prompted rare protests and damaged his popularity.

Last week, officials said a man who had worked at Fukushima after the crisis had been diagnosed with the first confirmed case of radiation-linked cancer, a revelation likely to fan fears about nuclear power.

Two reactors in the southern prefecture of Kagoshima have been switched on since the summer after receiving the go-ahead from the local authorities.

The restarting of another pair of reactors has been held up by legal challenges.

Ehime governor Tokihiro Nakamura said on Monday that he had authorised the restart due to costs and nuclear's reliability as a stable energy source.

But "I want (Shikoku Power) to adopt all measures to ensure safety," he told the company's president in a televised meeting.

Tokyo has said it would not go ahead with reactor restarts unless it won the support of local leaders.

In 2011, a tsunami sparked by an earthquake swamped reactor cooling systems at Fukushima and sent some into meltdown.

The worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986 spewed radiation over a wide area and forced tens of thousands from their homes, many of whom will likely never return.