The first of Japan's nuclear reactors could come back online in as little as three weeks' time after all of the country's nuclear plants were shut down pending safety checks following last year's Fukushima disaster.
The Japanese government has given its approval to a plan that would see the country's first two nuclear reactors restarted since all 50 of them were gradually taken offline in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster in March 2011.
Thorough safety checks were ordered for all of Japan's nuclear plants. But even with improved safety standards and emergency procedures, there is still widespread public opposition to restarting any of Japan's reactors over fears of another nuclear catastrophe.
As many as 10,000 protesters gathered outside Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's office Friday night to protest putting reactors back on the grid.
Restarting the two reactors in the town of Ohi in western Japan is seen as a test to gauge how adamant the government is about bringing the reactors back online. It is hoped that power shortages during peak summer demand can be avoided by restarting them. Prior to the tsunami that caused explosions and nuclear radiation leaks at the Fukushima plant, Japan relied on nuclear power for about 30 percent of its energy needs.
"There is no such thing as a perfect score when it comes to disaster prevention steps," Trade Minister Yukio Edano told a news conference after the announcement. "But, based on what we learned from the Fukushima accident, those measures that need to be taken urgently have been addressed, and the level of safety has been considerably enhanced (at the Ohi plant)."
Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) officials say it will take about three weeks to get the first reactor in Ohi back online.
mz/sb (AFP, Reuters)