Local officials have approved to restart a nuclear power plant in Japan's south, ushering the country's return to nuclear power generation more than three years after the Fukushima disaster.

Kagoshima Governor Yuichiro Ito said two reactors at the Sendai Nuclear Power Station would be restarted despite concerns among some local residents.

"I want to inform the economy, trade and industry minister about my understanding of the government's policy to push for restarting nuclear power plants," he said on Friday, adding he had considered "various situations comprehensively".

The local approval came after the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) said in September that it believed the two units at Sendai met toughened safety standards introduced after the Fukushima accident in 2011.

The actual restart, however, is likely to be delayed until next year as technical procedures are still under way, including more NRA approvals for remedial work at the site.

Japan had 54 nuclear reactors before the 2011 earthquake and tsunami destroyed the Fukushima power station. That incident prompted the government to shut down all its plants.

Two reactors were briefly restarted in 2012 but their shutdown last September heralded an entirely nuclear-free Japan.

Industry Minister Yoichi Miyazawa welcomed Friday's move, telling reporters in Tokyo that the government "really appreciates that Kagoshima prefecture is doing so many things" for restarting the reactors.

Lessons of Fukushima

Communities living right next door to nuclear plants, who often enjoy grants from utility companies and depend on the power stations for employment, are frequently sympathetic to the reopening of nuclear plants.

However, there is hostility from those living farther afield who enjoy no direct benefits, but see themselves in the firing line in the event of another accident like Fukushima.

Major challenges ahead for Japan's Fukushima

Some critics have also warned that the Sendai plant could be at risk from a nearby volcano.

"In contrast to the government, regulator and the nuclear industry, the people of Kagoshima understand the lessons of Fukushima," Kazue Suzuki nuclear campaigner at Greenpeace Japan, said in a statement before the decision was announced.

Pro-nuclear Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has set his heart on persuading a wary electorate that the world's third largest economy must return to an energy source which once supplied more than a quarter of its power.

Fukushima was the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. It forced tens of thousands of people from their homes, with many of them still displaced amid warnings some areas might have to be abandoned forever.

Source: Agencies