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By Lars Nicolaysen, dpa

TOKYO — Two nuclear reactors in Japan passed new safety standards Wednesday, for the first time since the nuclear disaster at Fukushima three and a half years ago.

The move brings Japan closer to restarting domestic nuclear power generation after the government shut down all of its nuclear plants in the wake of the reactor meltdown at Fukushima, which followed an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

Two reactors at the Sendai power plant in Kagoshima prefecture in the south of the country obtained safety clearance from regulators on Wednesday.

The plant operated by Kyushu Electric was unlikely to start operating before December due to unfinished paperwork, Kyodo News agency reported.

The Sendai plant would still need the approval of local authorities, with public opinion nationwide on balance opposed to the resumption of nuclear power.

Currently all 48 of Japan’s commercial reactors are idle. The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in April that it was planning a return to nuclear power.

In May a local court in the central prefecture of Fukui found in favour of anti-nuclear activists and blocked the restarting of two reactors at the Oi plant by operator Kansai Electric Power Co, ruling that the risk from earthquakes was unknowable.

But the government is still pushing for nuclear plants to come back online. Imports of fossil fuels to make up the shortfall using thermal power plants has helped drive the country’s trade balance into the red for the past two years.

The two Sendai reactors have a capacity of 1.8 gigawatts, or around 5 per cent of the former total output of the country’s nuclear power stations, which supplied around a third of the grid’s energy.

Nuclear was unlikely ever to contribute such a high proportion of the energy mix again, experts said. Fewer than half of the reactors were thought likely to pass the tightened security tests.

Any more than 40 years old were to be automatically mothballed, and Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi has ruled out the building of any new ones, at least for the foreseeable future.

Photo via WikiCommons

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