November 7, 2014 / 4:52 AM / 5 years ago

Japan's Sendai nuclear plant wins regional approval for restart

TOKYO (Reuters) - Regional authorities in Japan on Friday approved the restart of the idled Sendai nuclear plant of Kyushu Electric Power Co, paving the way for a revival of the stalled industry more than three years after the Fukushima disaster.

An employee of Kyushu Electric Power Co walks in front of reactor buildings at the company's Sendai nuclear power plant in Satsumasendai, Kagoshima prefecture April 3, 2014. REUTERS/Mari Saito/Files

The move would represent a victory for the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which has defended the importance of nuclear power for resource-starved Japan and pushed to restart its fleet of 48 offline reactors.

The two-reactor Sendai plant, located 1,000 km (600 miles) southwest of Tokyo in Kagoshima prefecture, won an important endorsement for the restart from the local township last month.

In a vote on Friday, 38 of the 47 members of Kagoshima’s prefectural assembly backed the restart.

“I take seriously the prefectural assembly’s decision to approve the petition to restart (nuclear plants),” Yuichiro Ito, the pro-nuclear governor of Kagoshima, told lawmakers, adding that he would announce his decision later in the day.

Ito, a supporter of the restart, is expected to endorse the decision.

Screams and yelling from opponents of the restart drowned out Ito’s remarks in a livecast of the meeting.

Japan has said it would defer to regional authorities to approve any restart. The Sendai plant now faces few obstacles, having secured approval from the host city, its mayor, the prefectural assembly and a promise from its governor.

If the move goes through, the Sendai reactors would become the first to restart under a new, independent regulator formed after a massive earthquake and tsunami set off multiple meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co’s Fukushima Daiichi plant in 2011.

Japan has been forced to import expensive fossil fuels to replace atomic power, which supplied around 30 percent of the country’s electricity before the 2011 disaster.

The Sendai plant is still unlikely to reopen until next year as the utility still needs to pass operational safety checks.

Reporting by Kentaro Hamada and Mari Saito; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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