Japan nuclear reactor restarts amid protests and fears

Japan has seen growing opposition to nuclear plants after the Fukushima accident in 2011. After the closure of many reactors by court orders, the country has now just three operating nuclear power plants.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

People gather near Ikata nuclear power plant to register their protest against the restart of reactor on August 12, 2016.

Japan restarted a nuclear reactor on Friday despite a court challenge by local residents. Operator Shikoku Electric Power said it switched on the No. 3 reactor at its Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime prefecture, about 700 kilometres south-west of Tokyo.

The reactor -- shuttered along with dozens of others across Japan in the wake of the March 2011 Fukushima accident -- is expected to be fully operational by Aug. 22.

A worker in a mask collects radioactive trash, putting in a plastic waste bag at a private house in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture on February 24, 2016.

Communities across the country have filed lawsuits to prevent restarts and register their opposition to nuclear power. These protests and lawsuits are a challenge for Abe's pro-nuclear stance.

In April, a court ruled that Japan's two working nuclear reactors could remain online, rejecting an appeal by residents who said tougher post-Fukushima safety rules were still inadequate.

Two other reactors in central Japan had also been restarted before a court in March ordered them offline in response to a legal challenge.

Including the reactor restarting on Friday, Japan will have just three operating reactors -- and furious local residents vowed to fight on.

Protesters hold placards during an anti-nuclear rally near the Prime Minister's office in Tokyo on March 11, 2016.

"We protest this restart of the Ikata nuclear reactor and are extremely angry," the residents' group said in a statement, adding that the reactor's use of a plutonium-uranium MOX fuel made it especially dangerous.

"We can't have another Fukushima."

The utility said it would make "ceaseless efforts" to ensure the plant was safe and to keep residents informed about key details of the restart.

The prefecture's governor and the mayor of the plant's host town agreed on the restart in October, in the face of opposition from local residents who filed a lawsuit to halt the refiring.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and utility companies have been pushing to get reactors back in operation after a huge earthquake and tsunami caused a disastrous meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

The accident forced all of Japan's dozens of reactors offline in the face of public worries over the safety of nuclear power and fears about radiation exposure, forcing a move to pricey fossil fuels.

TRTWorld and agencies