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Nuclear plant goes online for first time since Japan's tsunami

The Ohi plant’s reactor No 3 is returning to operation despite divided public opinion on the use of nuclear power.

File photo showing reactors No 3 and No 4 (left) of the Ohi nuclear power plant.
File photo showing reactors No 3 and No 4 (left) of the Ohi nuclear power plant.
Image: AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi, PA File

DOZENS OF PROTESTERS shouted and danced at the gate of a nuclear power plant set to restart Sunday, the first to go back online since Japan shut down all of its reactors for safety checks following the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Ohi nuclear plant’s reactor No 3 is returning to operation despite a deep division in public opinion. Last month, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda ordered the restarts of reactors No 3 and nearby No 4, saying people’s living standards can’t be maintained without nuclear energy. Many citizens are against a return to nuclear power because of safety fears after Fukushima.

Crowds of tens of thousands of people have gathered on Friday evenings around Noda’s official residence, chanting, “Saikado hantai,” or “No to nuclear restarts.” Protests drawing such numbers are extremely rare in this nation, reputed for orderly docility and conformity. A demonstration in Tokyo protesting the restart and demanding Noda resign was being organised in a major park Sunday.

Although initially ignored by mainstream local media, demonstrations across the country have grown as word gets out through social media such as Twitter, sometimes drawing Japanese celebrities, including Nobel Prize-winning writer Kenzaburo Oe and Ryuichi Sakamoto, who composed the score for “Last Emperor.”

All 50 of Japan’s working reactors were gradually turned off in the wake of last year’s earthquake and tsunami, which sent Fukushima Dai-ichi plant into multiple meltdowns, setting off the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

But worries about a power crunch over the hot summer months have been growing. Oil imports are soaring. Officials have warned about blackouts in some regions.

The government has been carrying out new safety tests on nuclear plants, and says No 3 and No 4 are safe for restart.

Protesters like Taisuke Kohno, a 41-year-old musician among the 200 protesters trying to blockade the Ohi plant, aren’t so sure. He said protesters were facing off against riot police and planned to stay there day and night.

“It’s a lie that nuclear energy is clean,” he said. “After experiencing the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, how can Japan possibly want nuclear power?”

Kansai Electric Power Co, the utility that operates Ohi, in central Japan, was not immediately available for comment Sunday. It said on its website that a nuclear reaction was starting at No 3 Sunday, a key step for a reactor to start producing electricity.

Fukushima Dai-ichi, in northeastern Japan, went into meltdowns and exploded after the March 11 tsunami destroyed backup generators to keep reactor cores cool.

In the latest problem at the crippled plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co, its operator, said the cooling system for the pool for spent nuclear fuel at reactor No 4 broke down Saturday, and a temporary system was set up Sunday.

The cooling system had to be restored within 70 hours, or temperatures would have started to rise, spewing radiation.

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Associated Press

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