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Japan Restarts Its First Nuclear Power Plant Since 2011 Disaster


After a massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, Japan, back in 2011, all of that country's nuclear power plants were shut down, and they remained so until today. Japan restarted a nuclear plant for the first time since that disaster, and that's likely just the beginning. The country plans to restart as many of them as possible, despite public opposition. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Nagasaki.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: The Kyushu Electric Power Company in southern Japan restarted one reactor at its Sendai nuclear power plant Tuesday morning. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that safety should be first priority as the plant reopens. Earlier this month, Shunichi Tanaka, head of Japan's Nuclear Regulatory Authority, suggested that the plant is safe enough.


SHUNICHI TANAKA: (Foreign language spoken).

KUHN: "If I was concerned that an accident like Fukushima could happen again, I would recommend that we not use nuclear power," he told the press conference. He added, "We can't say that it's absolutely safe and that there's zero risk of an accident." Japan now has to import most of its energy. The government wants Japan to get a fifth of its energy from nuclear power 15 years from now. Most of the country's 43 nuclear power plants have applied to restart after new, tougher safety inspections. Haruo Kurasawa is a journalist and expert on Japan's energy policy. He says the problem with this plan is that many of Japan's nuclear reactors are close to being obsolete.

HARUO KURASAWA: (Foreign language spoken).

KUHN: "It'll be almost impossible to achieve over 20 percent," he says, "because that would require using plants, which would be over 40 years old by 2030. Or you'd have to build new ones, which would be too expensive." A Mainichi newspaper poll last week found 30 percent of respondents are in favor of restarting the Sendai plant while 57 percent oppose it. Kurasawa predicts that restarting all the plants in disregard of public opinion could contribute to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party losing power. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Nagasaki. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.