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TOKYO – A local governor in Japan gave final approval Friday to restart a nuclear power plant in southern Japan, the first to resume operations in the country 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 restarting two reactors at the Sendai Nuclear Power Station would go ahead even though some local residents have concerns.
"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 announcement marks the final step before the Sendai reactors are expected to go back online early next year following regulators' on-site checks. Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority in July gave them passing grades under stricter safety requirements that factored in the lessons of the Fukushima Dai-ichi meltdowns.
All 48 workable reactors in Japan have been off line for safety checks or repairs since the 2011 disaster, except for two that have temporarily operated for about a year. Sendai would be the first to restart under 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 are not convinced by the decision.
At the prefectural assembly Friday, the chairman's announcement of the yes vote was nearly inaudible as about 200 citizens in the audience protested, shouting their opposition. They stood up, some hoisted "NO" signs, while others shouted "Protect residents' lives," and "shame on you," according to Kyodo News agency.
They are particularly concerned about several active volcanos around the plant, as 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 hurts the economy in Japan, which 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 Kagoshima's announcement.
"Gaining local residents' understanding is very important," he said.