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August 3, 2016

License renewed for new nuclear plant project in western Japan


YAMAGUCHI, Japan (Kyodo) -- The Yamaguchi prefectural government on Wednesday renewed a license for Chugoku Electric Power Co. to reclaim land for a new nuclear power plant in the western Japan prefecture, surprising and angering local residents opposed to the project.

Whether to extend the expired license for landfill work in the coastal town of Kaminoseki to build the Kaminoseki Nuclear Power Station had been a pending issue after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis led to the suspension of the work. But the local government decided to grant permission, saying that the plant is positioned "within the country's energy policy."

The utility is unlikely to quickly restart the work due to local opposition, however. The local government's license renewal is also conditional: It said landfill work should not start until prospects of building plant facilities become clear.

But the latest development could open up substantial discussions on whether new reactors should be built in Japan, which the central government has largely avoided so far in consideration of antinuclear sentiment that has prevailed after the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.

Meanwhile, the government has already been pushing for the resumption of existing reactors that have met post-Fukushima safety requirements. On Wednesday, the No. 3 reactor at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Mihama plant in Fukui Prefecture became the latest unit to have effectively cleared the state safety assessment.

Chugoku Electric was initially granted the landfill license in October 2008 for the two-reactor Kaminoseki nuclear complex on an island in the Seto Inland Sea.

The company began landfill work a year later, but progress was slow amid local protests and was suspended after the Fukushima crisis was triggered by a huge earthquake and tsunami that hit northeastern Japan in March 2011.

Just before the license was set to expire in October 2012, the utility applied for a three-year extension to the prefectural government. "We have not changed our idea that we need the Kaminoseki plant. We want to keep the license," a utility official said at the time.

Then Yamaguchi Gov. Shigetaro Yamamoto said the local government will "examine the issue appropriately" but did not make a decision, citing "special circumstances after the nuclear accident."

But on Wednesday, the prefectural government reversed course and permitted the extension of the license, though saying that landfill work should not begin until the utility has clear prospects of building plant facilities.

Chugoku Electric Vice President Akira Sakotani said the same day that there is currently no specific date set for building the facilities.

"We will seriously take to heart the request (by the prefectural government) and carefully consider (our response)," he said.

The license will be effective until July 6, 2019.

The decision of the prefectural government drew mixed responses from local residents.

"I can't believe the permission was given," said Toshiyasu Shimizu, 61, who heads a group of residents on an island several kilometers from the construction site.

But Naonori Koizumi, a 58-year-old member of a group supporting the construction project, said, "I don't think work will immediately resume, but the town is depopulating and graying. I hope nuclear power will make this town richer."

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