Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata No. 3 reactor in Ehime Prefecture became the fifth reactor at the third plant to obtain regulatory approval for a restart since the 2011 Fukushima triple meltdown, getting the green light from the Nuclear Regulation Authority on Wednesday.

But while the operator hopes to have the reactor back online by winter at the earliest, it must still complete a number of further measures and obtain local consent before restarting the unit. With concerns about how viable evacuation plans would be, Shikoku Electric officials said they plan to visit residents near the plant in a face-to-face effort to convince them to allow the plant to go ahead.

Wednesday’s decision by the NRA had been expected and represents a major step toward restart for the 890-megawatt reactor. Shikoku Electric predicts electricity sales from a restart will improve earnings by around ¥5 billion per month.

For local residents wary of a restart, the major worry is what would happen in the event of an accident. The Ikata reactor lies at the bottom of the narrow Sadamisaki Peninsula and has only a few access roads.

Evacuation plans have to be drawn up for the nearly 123,000 people who live in seven Ehime towns and villages as well as the town of Kaminoseki in Yamaguchi Prefecture who live within 30 km of Ikata. But a survey by Shikoku Electric last month showed that the municipalities are worried about massive traffic jams in the event of an accident that would make quick evacuation impossible, or that hospital patients and those in elderly care facilities could not be evacuated easily.

In addition, the survey showed that while Yamaguchi Prefecture had made preparations to accept those evacuees fleeing a nuclear accident, neighboring Kochi Prefecture had not, although officials there said they were planning discussions on the issue.

At a news conference on Wednesday in the prefectural capital of Matsuyama, Tsukasa Wada, a spokesperson for a local anti-nuclear group, said there are two other issues of concern.

“Although there is a fault line near the Ikata plant, the size of a possible quake was underestimated (by Shikoku Electric). In addition, the problem of spent fuel from the reactor can’t be solved,” Wada said, adding that his group would file a formal objection over the NRA’s decision.

The other reactors cleared by the NRA for restart are Kyushu Electric’s Sendai No. 1 and 2 reactors in Kagoshima Prefecture, which could go back online as early as next month, and Kepco’s Takahama No. 3 and 4 reactors in Fukui Prefecture, whose restart has been made uncertain by a temporary injunction issued by the Fukui District Court in April. Kepco has appealed the ruling.

Information from Kyodo added

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