48 nuclear reactors in Japan have been off-line since the Fukushima disaster

First nuclear plant in Japan closer to restart

First of 48 nuclear reactors in Japan put off-line after the Fukushima disaster has received a preliminary restart approval after a review found safety concerns had been addressed.

A 418-page report on design upgrades and safety improvements of two reactors at the Sendai Nuclear Power Station, operated by Kyushu Electric Power, has been reviewed by Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, who found the implemented measures comply with requirements introduced last July.

The regulators said the plant, located about 600 miles south west of Tokyo on the southern tip of the Kyushu island, was now deemed capable of avoiding severe accidents such as the Fukushima Dai-ichi meltdowns in an equally serious situation.

It is expected a 30-day technical public comment period will commence soon, to be completed prior to the final go-ahead for Kyushu Electric Power to restart the reactors.

Shunichi Tanaka, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, said the inspection found the Sendai plant incorporated lessons from Fukushima, particularly focusing on ways to build layers of protection in case of serious incidents in a country prone to natural disasters.

"Previously, safety inspections were merely design-based, but this time we focused on how to prevent severe accidents," he told a weekly commissioners' meeting, which was repeatedly disrupted with anti-nuclear protesters heckling from the floor.

It will still take a few more months to get the No 1 and No 2 reactors at Sendai Nuclear Power Station online, officials said. The operator has to clear final steps such as on-site checks, followed by obtaining local government consent.

Regulators will now shift work to the screening of the remaining 17 reactors that applied for inspection.

Though public opposition over restarts exceeds support, Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe is pushing to bring at least some of Japan's 48 reactors back online, saying a prolonged shutdown hurts the economy.

Abe's pro-nuclear stance is in contrast to that of the previous Japanese government who initiated the nuclear phase-out. 

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