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The operator of the Japanese nuclear power plant Fukushima Daiichi is preparing to restart a new plant

TOKYO (AP) — The operator of the tsunami-ravaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant said Monday it has received permission from safety authorities to load nuclear fuel into a reactor at its only operating plant in north-central Japan. I would like to restart for the first time since the 2011 disaster.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, or TEPCO, said it has received approval from the Nuclear Regulation Authority to load fuel into reactor No. 7 of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata and that the process would start later Monday. Loading the 872 sets of fuel assemblies is expected to take several weeks.

The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, the world’s largest, has been offline since 2012 as part of nationwide reactor shutdowns in response to the March 2011 triple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Reactors 6 and 7 in Kashiwazaki-Kariwa had passed safety tests in 2017, but preparations for their restart were suspended after a series of security issues were discovered in 2021. The Nuclear Regulation Authority lifted an operational ban on the plant four months ago.

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TEPCO, burdened with the rising costs of decommissioning and compensation for residents affected by the Fukushima disaster, has been eager to resume its only operable nuclear power plant to improve its operations. TEPCO is also struggling to regain public confidence in safely operating a nuclear power plant.

Prime Minister Kishida Fumio’s government has reversed previous plans for a nuclear phase-out and is accelerating the use of nuclear power in response to rising fuel costs linked to Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine and pressure to meet low-carbon economy targets.

During his visit to Japan in March, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, expressed his organization’s support for increasing Japan’s nuclear energy capacity, as the country sees it as a stable, clean energy source.

The IAEA has since also sent a team of experts to the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant to provide technical assistance.

TEPCO said in a statement that it will ensure safety when the plant restarts. “We will continue each step steadily, and we will stop if we discover any problems and take the necessary measures.”

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However, the restart remains uncertain because it requires permission from the local community. An earthquake on January 1 in the nearby Noto region has reignited security concerns.

Niigata Governor Hideyo Hanazumi has yet to clarify whether he agrees to restart reactor No. 7. Citing extensive road damage caused by the Noto earthquake, Hanazumi raised questions about current evacuation plans in communities near the factory and called for a comprehensive debate on safety measures.

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