Engineers in Japan have begun refiring the Unit No. 3 atomic reactor, despite mounting protests in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011. This ends nearly two months of Japan being nuclear-free.
Local media outlets reported that the process to restart the reactor at Oi in the west of the country began around 9.00 p.m. (local time).
Protests spilled over into a second day as around 650 people gathered at the site. "If the reactor is reactivated... other reactors will be restarted one after another," 40-year-old designer Ikuyo Hattori, told the Kyodo News agency. "We cannot accept the forcible restart when the Fukushima accident has not yet been settled," she added.
"We are against the restart," protestors chanted to the beat of drums as they faced a line of riot police.
Among the protestors trying to blockade the Oi plant, 41-year-old Taisuke Kohno told the Associated Press news agency "the protestors were facing off against riot police and planned to stay there day and night."
"It's a lie that nuclear energy is clean," he said. "After experiencing the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, how could Japan possibly want nuclear power?" he added.
The demonstration was the latest in a line of increasingly vocal anti-nuclear demonstrations in a country where large-scale protests are seemingly rare.
Anti-nuclear protests are gathering momentum across the country since Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda made the announcement that safety had been assured at the Oi plant, an area known for frequent seismic faults.
Tens of thousands people gathered on Friday on the streets outside the premier's home in central Tokyo. Smaller scale protests have been held there every Friday since late March, led by Nobel Prize-winning author Kenzaburo Oe. Oe started an anti-nuclear petition and has so far gathered over 7.5 million signatures.
Power within a week
Kansai Electric Power, operators of the Oi plant, said the 1.18 million-kilowatt reactors would reach criticality early on Monday morning and begin generating power on Wednesday. They are expected to be fully operational within a week.
The operators said in a statement on their website that the cooling system for the spent nuclear fuel pool at the No. 4 reactor broke down on Saturday, and a temporary system was set up on Sunday.
The cooling system needed to be restored within 70 hours, or temperatures within the unit would have risen, leaking radiation.
There are plans to reactivate the No. 4 Reactor at Oi on July 14.
Japan has been operating without nuclear power since early May when the last of its 50 functioning reactors was shutdown for a scheduled safety inspection.
The Japanese government had held off restarting the reactors as it considered the options for nuclear power following a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that damaged the reactor cooling systems at Fukushima. The earthquake and tsunami killed more than 15,000 people.
Noda approved the restart of two reactors at the Oi plant in an attempt to circumvent the demand on power supply as summer temperatures soar and estimators warn of huge electricity shortfalls over the coming months. Noda justified the re-start by saying Japanese living standards cannot be maintained without nuclear energy.
jlw/slk (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)