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Japan aproves first nuclear plant since Fukushima disaster

The Sendai plant will need two more government approvals before it can restart.

By Ed Adamczyk
Japanese police wearing chemical protection suits search for victims inside the 20 kilometer radius around the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Minamisoma, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, on April 15, 2011. A massive earthquake and ensuing tsunami on March 11 destroyed homes, killed thousands and caused a nuclear disaster. UPI/Keizo Mori
Japanese police wearing chemical protection suits search for victims inside the 20 kilometer radius around the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Minamisoma, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, on April 15, 2011. A massive earthquake and ensuing tsunami on March 11 destroyed homes, killed thousands and caused a nuclear disaster. UPI/Keizo Mori | License Photo

TOKYO, Sept. 10 (UPI) -- Japan's nuclear regulatory agency approved the restarting Wednesday of two reactors shut down after the Fukushima Daiichi power plant meltdown in 2011.

Operations at all of Japan's 48 nuclear power plants were gradually suspended after the plant in Fukushima prefecture was struck by a tsunami, earthquake and meltdown. Japan has imported fuel and coal for power since the last reactor was closed in 2013. The approval to reopen the Sendai plant in southern Japan by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), an agency created in 2012 to restore public assurance in nuclear industry safety, is an important step in bringing nuclear power back to Japan.

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The agency's endorsement only concerns the plant's adherence to new and stronger safety standards. The Sendai plant's operator, Kyushu Electric Power Co., will require two more approvals, from city and prefecture governments, before it can reopen. It is expected to resume operations in the first quarter of 2015.

The safety approval comes as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a big-business proponent, seeks to restore Japan's nuclear power industry as a way to reduce the country's rising trade deficits, in part caused by the importation of fuel. Opinion polls indicate the public is unconvinced about nuclear safety and the longstanding ties between Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and the industry. In a month-long comment period leading to the Sendai plant's safety approval, the NRA received 17,800 comments from citizens, most skeptical about reopening the Sendai plant.

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"I think the huge number of public comments, more than anything, reflects the enormous sensitivity toward the restart question, and the safety of nuclear power. I also see it as reflecting a strong desire after the Fukushima accident to learn from that experience and raise the level of safety," said Kenzo Oshima, an NRA commissioner.

While Japan now claims to have the most stringent safety standards in the world, some people believe the NRA has become little more than a rubber stamp for the Abe administration.

"There was clearly huge pressure on the regulatory agency from the Abe government. This government is just ramming through its agenda, with complete disregard for the public will," said Akira Kimura, a Kagoshima University professor involved in seeking to stop the reopening of the Sendai plant

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