Friday, November 07, 2014

Japan local assembly okays restart of two reactors

A local assembly in Japan on Friday (Nov 7) approved plans to restart two nuclear reactors, removing a major hurdle to getting atomic power back online more than three years after the Fukushima disaster.

A majority of Kagoshima assembly members voted for the motion to resume operations at the Sendai plant in the southern Japanese prefecture, officials said. The move leaves as an obstacle only the formal approval of Kagoshima's powerful governor, which is expected later in the day, and marks a victory for the pro-nuclear government of Shinzo Abe in its campaign to re-fire atomic plants.

The assembly's approval came after the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) confirmed it believed the two units met toughened safety standards introduced after the Fukushima accident. Television footage showed about a dozen protesters in the public gallery of the assembly hall chanting "We oppose the restart". Governor Yuichiro Ito, who has the final say, is expected to announce his support later on Friday.

The actual restart, however, is likely to be delayed until next year as technical procedures are still under way, including more NRA approvals for remedial work at the site.

Following the tsunami-sparked catastrophe at Fukushima, Japan's entire stable of nuclear reactors were gradually switched off. Two were briefly restarted in 2012 but their power-down last September heralded an entirely nuclear-free Japan. While Prime Minister Abe's government and much of industry is keen to get back to atomic generation - largely because of the soaring costs of dollar denominated fossil fuels to an economy with a plunging currency - the public is unconvinced.

Communities living right next door to nuclear plants, who often enjoy grants from utility companies and depend on the power stations for employment, are frequently sympathetic to restarts. However, there is hostility from those living further afield who enjoy no direct benefits but see themselves as in the firing line in the event of another accident like Fukushima.

Permission from local representatives will be good news for pro-nuclear Abe, who has set his heart on persuading his wary electorate that the world's third largest economy must return to an energy source that once supplied more than a quarter of its power.

Fukushima was the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. It forced tens of thousands of people from their homes, with many of them still displaced amid warnings some areas might have to be abandoned forever.
- AFP/nd

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