TOKYO • The operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant yesterday cleared a major regulatory hurdle to restart two reactors in Japan, the company's first since the 2011 tsunami sparked the worst atomic accident in decades.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority gave Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) preliminary approval to restart the two reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, one of the world's biggest and the largest in Japan. The plant, in the central prefecture of Niigata, has been idle since the disaster, as have been many other nuclear power plants across the country.
Triggered by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake in March 2011, a massive tsunami overwhelmed reactor cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in north-eastern Japan. It caused reactor meltdowns, releasing radiation in the most dangerous nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
Yesterday, Tepco won safety approval as the nuclear authority judged the two reactors to have met the stricter safety standards introduced after the disaster.
The decision is expected to be formalised after a month of public hearings but Tepco still needs to get local consent before it can bring the reactors online, which could take years.
Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama, who won the local election in 2016 for a four-year term, is known to be cautious about restarting Kashiwazaki-Kariwa.
Nuclear power is one of the key issues at the Oct 22 general election in Japan, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe favouring gradual restarts while his main opponent - the party of Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike - is campaigning to cease nuclear power by 2030.