Updated Nov. 6, 2014, The Economist: ” NEARLY four years after an earthquake and tsunami triggered the meltdown of the Fukushima power plant, Japan is moving towards a nuclear comeback. Last week the city assembly of Satsumasendai, a city in Kagoshima prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu, voted to fire up two reactors in the nearby Sendai power plant, to heckling from the public gallery. It is the first plant to win approval since the disaster on March 11th 2011 and subsequent mothballing of all of Japan’s 48 nuclear reactors (two reactors were restarted at the Oi facility, in Fukui prefecture, for 14 months, before they were shut again in September last year). If, as expected, the local government approves the decision on November 7th, Sendai could be back online by early next year. That will cheer its operator, Kyushu Electric Power, but deepen the country’s division over atomic power.
Japan’s government desperately wants to put at least some of the mothballed reactors back to work to cut its huge bill for imported fuel. Tougher safety rules by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, the country’s new nuclear watchdog, were supposed to have restored public faith shattered by the disaster at Fukushima. The Sendai vote is the first sign that these rules may be working. Kyushu Electric Power won the regulator’s approval partly by increasing its estimates for how much shaking the Sendai plant could withstand in the event of a quake. That, and millions of dollars in industry and government largesse lavished on Satsumasendai, helped persuade the assembly to swallow its doubts.
But many people in local towns and cities inside a probable fallout zone from a nuclear accident have been hard to convince. Kagoshima city, home to 600,000 people, is 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the Sendai reactors—roughly the same distance as still uninhabitable communities north-west of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. The prefecture is also home to several active volcanoes. Such concerns recently prompted Aira city, 30km away, to vote overwhelmingly to scrap the Sendai plant. Several other local towns have demanded a say in the restarts.
The government is under no legal obligation to listen to these demands, so long as it has the approval of host communities. But as most Japanese are still opposed to nuclear power, the demands make restarts tough politically. Evacuation plans also feature heavily in a string of lawsuits launched against the nuclear plants. In May a local court ruled against restarting the Oi facility. Its operator, Kansai Electric, is appealing that decision.
Opponents say that the government and the nuclear regulator, which has received applications to restart 20 reactors, have focused too heavily on the operational safety of plants, like resistance to shaking and proper venting in the case of a nuclear accident. In their rush to get them back online they have not concentrated enough on readying nearby communities for a future disaster. One of the loudest critics is Hirohiko Izumida, governor of Niigata prefecture, home to the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, the world’s largest. In 2007 an earthquake sparked a fire at the plant, cut off roads and stranded rescue workers. Mr Izumida watched the disaster unfold on television because communication lines to his office were down. He frets about what will happen to the 440,000 people living within 30km of the plant if there is another such incident.
Last month that plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO, which also owns the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi), told foreign inspectors that the plant was now among the safest in the world. TEPCO has applied to restart two reactors. But Mr Izumida says he wants major changes to “grossly inadequate” evacuation plans before that happens. Among his demands is devolved power for local authorities—only the prime minister can currently give an evacuation order—and the installation of nuclear bunkers in local houses. TEPCO, which has limped along since 2011, is staking its future on the restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, says Katsuhiko Hayashi, a senior official in the company. First, though, it must convince Mr Izumida. “
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Posted Oct. 28, 2014: ” (Reuters) – A town in southwest Japan became the first to approve the restart of a nuclear power station on Tuesday, a step forward in Japan’s fraught process of reviving an industry left idled by the Fukushima catastrophe in 2011.
Satsumasendai, a town of 100,000 that hosts the two-reactor Kyushu Electric Power Co (9508.T) plant, is 1,000 km (600 miles) southwest of Tokyo and has long relied on the Sendai plant for government subsidies and jobs.
Nineteen of the city’s 26 assembly members voted in favor of restarting the plant while four members voted against and three abstained, a city assembly member told Reuters.
The restart of Japan’s first reactors to receive clearance to restart under new rules imposed since Fukushima is unlikely until next year as Kyushu Electric still needs to pass operational safety checks.
All 48 of the country’s nuclear reactors were gradually taken offline following Fukushima, the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
An earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi plant, 220 km (130 miles) northeast of Tokyo, sparking triple nuclear meltdowns, forcing more than 160,000 residents to flee from nearby towns and contaminating water, food and air.
Japan has been forced to import expensive fossil fuels to replace atomic power, which previously supplied around 30 percent of the country’s electricity.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is pushing to restart nuclear reactors, but has said he will defer to local authorities to approve a policy that is still unpopular with large swaths of the public.
The restart divided communities nearest to the plant, pitting the host township that gets direct benefits from siting reactors against other communities that do not reap the benefits but say they will be equally exposed to radioactive releases in the event of a disaster.
In Ichikikushikino, a town less than five km (three miles) from the Sendai plant, more than half the 30,000 residents signed a petition opposing the restart earlier this year.
In the lead-up to the local vote, officials held town halls in neighbouring towns to explain the restart, where some residents complained that the public meetings were restrictive and did not address concerns about evacuation plans.
A fire broke out at Kyushu Electric’s other nuclear plant on Tuesday, Kyodo News reported. The fire started in an auxiliary building of the idled nuclear station and was extinguished by plant workers, the agency said. There were no injuries and no release of radioactive materials, it said. ”