Japan switches on Ohi nuclear reactor amid protests

Image caption,
Many in Japan distrust the government's assurances that nuclear power is safe

Japan has restarted the first nuclear reactor since the meltdown at the Fukushima power plant last year.

Hundreds gathered near the plant in the town of Ohi to protest against the move, which has divided public opinion.

Last month, the prime minister urged support, saying a return to nuclear power was essential for the economy.

All 50 of Japan's nuclear plants were shut after the meltdown at Fukushima, which was triggered by a tsunami and earthquake.

The crisis was regarded as the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

Road blocked

It will take until Wednesday before the No 3 reactor at Ohi, in Fukui prefecture on the west coast, can start supplying electricity.

The reactor is expected to be fully operational by the end of the week, the operator, Kansai Electric Power Co (Kepco) says.

About 100 of the 650 protesters at the nuclear plant blocked a nearby road overnight, but a Kepco spokesman said the reactivation was not affected, according to the Reuters news agency.

The restart of the reactor follows an order by Mr Noda last month authorising the reactivation of both it and another reactor at Ohi - No 4 - following stress tests. Reactor No 4 is to be restarted on 14 July.

At the time, he called on the Japanese to support the move, saying it was needed to bolster the economy and prevent energy shortages over the summer.

The decision was welcomed by businesses who had voiced concern over the lack of power for industry.


On Friday, tens of thousands took part in anti-nuclear rallies in Tokyo outside Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's official residence, chanting "Saikado hantai," or "No to nuclear restarts", in what correspondents say was a rare show of dissent in Japan.

The BBC's Mariko Oi, in Tokyo, says it was one of the largest demonstrations seen since the reactors at Fukushima were damaged in March 2011.

Reports differ on the number of attendees, but organisers say 200,000 people took part, our correspondent says.

The government is continuing to assess whether other nuclear plants are safe to be reactivated.

But demonstrators say they are not convinced by assurances over safety. They argue that Japan should take the opportunity to move to alternative energy sources.

Tokyo-based protester Nobuhiko Shudo told the BBC the problem of disposing of radioactive waste was key.

"The most important thing for us is sustainability of the Earth for the next generation so if we have some problems to keep the planet clean and beautiful, then we have to change the industrial structure" to foster alternative energy sources, he said.