Japan restarts first reactor since Fukushima crisis

Sun Jul 1, 2012 12:34pm GMT

TOKYO, July 1 (Reuters) - Kansai Electric Power Co on Sunday restarted the 1,180-megawatt No. 3 unit at its Ohi atomic plant, the utility said, Japan's first nuclear reactor to come back online since the Fukushima crisis, despite public safety concerns.

The government on June 16 approved the restart of the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Ohi plant to avert a potential summer power crunch, sparking street protests in cities around Japan.

The No.4 unit will resume operations later this month.

Opinion polls have shown around 70 percent of Japanese voters want the country to ditch nuclear power in the long term.

On Sunday, about 100 protesters with more than a dozen vehicles blocked a road near the Ohi plant, part of a group of about 650 who had rallied against the restarts, although a Kansai Electric spokesman said the protest did not affect the restart.

Kyodo news agency reported that a vice cabinet minister sent to watch the operation was forced to arrive by boat.

In Tokyo, some 7,000 protesters marched through downtown streets chanting their opposition and calling for an end to the use of nuclear power, public broadcaster NHK reported.

All the country's nuclear reactors were shut down for maintenance and then underwent safety checks to see if they could withstand an earthquake and tsunami similar to the disaster that overwhelmed Tokyo Electric Power's Fukushima Daiichi plant last year, causing the worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.

Before the Fukushima crisis, Japan relied on nuclear power for about 30 percent of its electricity and was the world's third-biggest user after the United States and France. (Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori and Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Linda Sieg)

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