On the main road leading from the Sendai nuclear plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, a construction crew is laying down asphalt to widen the evacuation route in the event of a future disaster.

For many living in the area, that's a hopeful sight. It means the authorities are edging closer to restarting two nuclear reactors that have been an economic engine for nearly three decades in a remote coastal town that has few other options.

Satsumasendai never felt the earthquake that triggered the Fukushima nuclear disaster some 1,600 km (almost 1,000 miles) to the north in March 2011. But residents saw their friends lose jobs and felt their future was threatened when the Sendai nuclear plant, run by Kyushu Electric Power, was idled along with the rest of the nation's reactors for a more stringent round of safety checks after Fukushima.