Sendai – A nuclear reactor damaged by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami is all but certain to resume operations after the governor of the prefecture hosting the facility decided to give the plan the green light, local officials said Wednesday.
Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai will formally announce his decision by the end of the year, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He would become the first governor of a disaster-hit prefecture to greenlight the restart of a nuclear reactor.
For the No. 2 unit of the Onagawa nuclear plant to restart, winning consent from local government leaders is the last required step after it cleared a national safety screening in February.
Consent from the mayors of the facility's two host municipalities, the city of Ishinomaki and the town of Onagawa, is also needed ahead of the reactor's resumption.
Of them, Ishinomaki Mayor Hiroshi Kameyama has already expressed his willingness to give the plan his approval. The move also has the backing of the two municipalities' assemblies.
The 2011 quake triggered one of the world's worst nuclear crises in neighboring Fukushima Prefecture and caused all of the country's 54 reactors to be halted. Nine units at five plants nationwide have restarted following regulatory and local approval.
Murai has come to believe residents will support his stance after the Miyagi Prefectural Assembly adopted a plea asking for his consent at a panel meeting Tuesday. The assembly is set to approve it at a plenary session next week, the officials said.
"When the plenary session makes its decision, I will make a decision upon hearing the opinions of mayors of cities, towns and villages within the prefecture," Murai said.
The 825,000-kilowatt reactor won the approval of the Nuclear Regulation Authority in February, becoming the second disaster-damaged reactor to pass stricter safety standards after the Fukushima nuclear disaster — the worst since Chernobyl.
At the Onagawa complex, all three reactors — which are boiling water reactors like those in Fukushima — shut down when the massive quake and a 13-meter tsunami struck on March 11, 2011, flooding the underground floors of the No. 2 unit.
However, the plant's emergency cooling system did not fail and there was no meltdown like the one that occurred at three of the six reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.
Tohoku Electric aims to restart the reactor in 2022 at the earliest, after completing anti-disaster work such as the construction of an 800-meter-long seawall. It has already decided to scrap the No. 1 unit.
Other boiling water reactors at Tepco's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture and the Tokai No. 2 plant of Japan Atomic Power Co. in Ibaraki Prefecture have also won the regulator's approval to resume operations but have yet to obtain local consent.