Japan approves restart of reactor closest to 2011 quake epicentre

Tohoku Electric Power receives a first green light to restart the No.2 reactor at the Onagawa power plant.

    The station was swamped by the 2011 tsunami but survived with its cooling system intact, saving its reactors from the threat of meltdowns [File: Issei Kato/Reuters]
    The station was swamped by the 2011 tsunami but survived with its cooling system intact, saving its reactors from the threat of meltdowns [File: Issei Kato/Reuters]

    A Japanese company has won initial regulatory approval to restart a reactor at its Onagawa power plant in the country's northeast, more than eight years after it was damaged in the devastating earthquake-tsunami that caused the Fukushima disaster.

    Tohoku Electric Power said in a statement on Wednesday that it had received a first green light from Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority to restart the No.2 reactor at the Onagawa power plant, subject to a public consultation period. 

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    Onagawa was the nuclear station closest to the epicentre of the March 2011 magnitude-9.0 earthquake, which triggered a tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 people, as well as causing the worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

    The station was swamped by the tsunami but survived with its cooling system intact, saving its three reactors from the threat of meltdowns similar to those that occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi station to the south.

    Further approvals along with the consent of local authorities, which is not guaranteed, will be needed before the restart

    The Japan Times reported that the first approval was given after the addition of anti-disaster measures totalling some $3.1bn, including constructing a towering seawall. Other such measures are still awaiting completion.

    Stigma of Fukushima

    The reactor is a boiling water reactor (BWR) with the same basic design as those that melted down in Fukushima. The plant's No.1 reactor is scheduled for decommissioning, while Tohoku Electric Power has yet to decide the fate of the No.3 reactor.

    The disaster led to the eventual shutdown of the country's then-54 operational reactors, which once provided nearly a third of Japan's electricity. All had to be relicensed under new standards after the crisis highlighted operational and regulatory failings.

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    While the approval will be a boost for Japan's resurgent nuclear industry, the sector is still set to miss a government target of providing at least a fifth of the country's electricity by 2030, an analysis by Reuters news agency showed last year. 

    Nine reactors have been restarted, all of them pressurised water reactors located far from the capital, Tokyo, while the stigma of Fukushima still hangs over use of the older BWR technology. 

    The issue of nuclear safety in Japan was highlighted again earlier this week when Pope Francis - who met victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster while in Japan over the weekend - said nuclear energy should not be used until there are ironclad guarantees that it is safe for people and the environment. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies