After months of debate about safety, Japan will begin producing nuclear energy for the first time in almost two years close to the town of Satsumasendai as early as Tuesday.
Restarting one of the Sendai nuclear plant’s two 30-year-old reactors represents a victory for the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who insists that without nuclear energy the Japanese economy will buckle beneath the weight of expensive oil and gas imports.
But his call for Japan to confront its Fukushima demons has been greeted with scepticism by most voters, whose opposition to nuclear restarts remains firm, even in the face of rising electricity bills.
Just over four years since Fukushima Daiichi had a triple meltdown, triggering the world’s worst nuclear crisis for 25 years, Japan remains deeply divided over its future energy mix.
The 2011 disaster forced the evacuation of 160,000 people and the closure of all the country’s 48 working reactors for safety checks.
Opinions among the 100,000 residents of Satsumasendai range from anxiety to relief.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority affirmed the safety of the reactor and another one at the Sendai plant in September under stricter safety rules imposed after the accident, the worst since the 1986 Chornobyl explosion. The plans call for the second reactor to be restarted in October.
The Sendai No. 1 reactor is scheduled to start generating power Friday and reach full capacity next month.
All of Japan’s nearly 50 workable reactors have been offline for repairs or safety checks. Abe’s government wants as many of them as possible to be put online to sustain the nation’s economy, which now relies on imported energy.
“We believe it is important for our energy policy to push forward restarts of reactors that are deemed safe,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.
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