TOKYO – A Japanese nuclear plant won preliminary approval Wednesday for meeting stringent post-Fukushima safety requirements, clearing a major hurdle toward becoming the first to restart under the tighter rules.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority accepted a report that found that design upgrades and safety improvements at Kyushu Electric Power Co.'s two reactors at the Sendai Nuclear Power Station have complied with the requirements introduced last July.
The regulators said the plant is now deemed capable of avoiding severe accidents such as the Fukushima Dai-ichi meltdowns in an equally serious situation.
The authority is expected to give final approval after a 30-day technical and scientific public comment period.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing to bring at least some of Japan's 48 reactors back online, saying a prolonged shutdown hurts Japan's economy.
All of Japan's 48 remaining reactors are offline for safety checks and repairs since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami hit Fukushima Dai-ichi, causing multiple meltdowns.
It will still take a few more months to get the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at Sendai Nuclear Power Station online, officials said. The operator has to clear final steps such as on-site checks, followed by obtaining local government consent.
Though public opposition over restarts exceeds support, Abe's government has been calling for restarts, reversing a nuclear phase-out policy adopted by the previous government. The safety approval for the Sendai plant and its expected restart marks a big boost for the nuclear industry.
The Sendai plant is 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) southwest of Tokyo and on the southern tip of Japan's Kyushu island. Regulators in March placed the plant, one of 19 reactors undergoing safety checks, on a fast-track for safety approval, largely because the operator was quick to raise the bar on tsunami and earthquake safety.