Japanese governor gives OK for first nuclear plant to go back online under new safety rules

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TOKYO — A governor gave final approval Friday for a nuclear power plant to restart in southern Japan, the first to resume operations under new safety rules imposed in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi meltdowns caused by an earthquake and tsunami.

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

"All things considered, I must say that we still need to rely on nuclear energy, and it is extremely important for us to steadily carry out the plan," he told a news conference hours after the prefectural assembly endorsed the restart.

The Sendai reactors are expected to go back online early next year following on-site checks by regulators. Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority gave them passing grades in July under stricter safety requirements that factored in the lessons of the Fukushima meltdowns.

At the Fukushima plant on Friday, three workers were injured, one seriously, when a steel railing fell from the top of a tank being constructed to store contaminated water, the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., said. The workers were not contaminated with any radiation, but one was unconscious and was airlifted to a hospital. He later regained consciousness, while the two others had less serious injuries.

Massive amounts of contaminated water continue to leak from the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors, hampering the plant's decommissioning, which is expected to take decades.

All 48 workable reactors in Japan have been off line for safety checks or repairs since the 2011 disaster, except for two that operated temporarily for about a year. The Sendai plant would be the first to restart under new safety rules imposed after the Fukushima crisis.

The plant's host town, Satsumasendai, has already voted to restart the plant. The governor's endorsement completes the required process of local consent.

Some residents were not convinced by the decision.

At the prefectural assembly on Friday, the chairman's announcement of the yes vote was nearly inaudible as about 200 citizens in the audience shouted their opposition. They stood up, some holding "NO" signs, while others shouted "Protect residents' lives," and "Shame on you," according to the Kyodo News agency.

They are particularly concerned about several active volcanos near the plant after a recent fatal volcanic explosion in northern Japan demonstrated that eruptions are virtually unpredictable.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been pushing to restart some of the 48 reactors, saying a prolonged shutdown will hurt the economy. Japan is heavily dependent on imported sources of energy.

Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yoichi Miyazawa, who visited Kagoshima to urge the governor to support the government's energy policy, applauded Friday's announcement.

"Gaining local residents' understanding is very important," he said.

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