Japan is preparing to restart a nuclear plant for the first time since the Fukushima disaster in 2011 as early as next week, with the country's nuclear regulator saying on Saturday that another severe accident will not be possible under new and stricter safety rules, in an attempt to ease lingering fears among the public over nuclear power.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) is planning to give the green light for the restart of Kyushu Electric Power's Sendai No.1. The
Fukushima disaster had led to the closure of all nuclear reactors in 2013 for upgrades.
NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka told Japan's Nikkei business daily that "We will make completely sure that the reactor is operating as it should. A disaster like that at Tokyo Electric Power's Fukushima Daiichi will not occur," Reuters reported.
The Fukushima Daiichi plant was damaged in a devastating quake and tsunami in March 2011, sparking triple nuclear meltdowns. The meltdowns forced more than 160,000 residents to flee nearby towns and contaminated water, food and air. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency it was a level 7 accident, the worst nuclear crisis since the disaster at Chernobyl 25 years earlier.
Three former executives of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) will be tried for failing to take measures to prevent the Fukushima nuclear disaster, a Japanese panel announced last week.
Japan's incumbent Shinzo Abe government hopes to restart all nuclear plants to ease the energy problem affecting the country's economy. However, the plan has not been welcomed by many Japanese citizens who are opposed to atomic power and many environmental groups are campaigning against the restarts.
The NRA head tried to assure the public by explaining that the improve rules require dozens of safety regulations to be met, such as the construction of a secondary control room, backup power sources and larger tsunami walls.
"The new regulations are incomparably [stricter] than those under the old system," Tanaka told the Nikkei, adding that any accident "would be contained before it reached a scale anywhere near what happened in Fukushima."
Tanaka said the nuclear regulatory agency is responsibile for the Sendai reactor, which has met the safety criteria, Reuters reported.
Nuclear power plants generate up to one third of Japan's electricity, and only five reactors at three plants have been approved to restart so far.