A nuclear reactor in northeastern Japan damaged by the 2011 earthquake-tsunami disaster is all but certain to resume operations as the governor of the prefecture hosting the facility has decided to give consent, local officials said Wednesday.
For the No. 2 unit of the Onagawa nuclear plant in Miyagi Prefecture to restart, winning consent from local government leaders is the last remaining step needed after it cleared a national safety screening in February.
Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai will formally announce his consent by the end of the year, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
By doing so, he would be the first governor of a disaster-hit prefecture to give the green light to the restart of a nuclear reactor.
The other heads of local governments whose consent is essential are the mayors of the city of Ishinomaki and the town of Onagawa where the plant operated by Tohoku Electric Power Co. straddles.
Of them, Ishinomaki Mayor Hiroshi Kameyama has already expressed his willingness to give the nod, and such a move is backed by the two municipalities' assemblies.
After the quake triggered one of the world's worst nuclear crises in neighboring Fukushima Prefecture and caused all of Japan's 54 reactors to halt at one point, nine units at five plants in the country have restarted following regulatory and local approval.
Murai has come to believe residents will support his stance after the prefectural assembly adopted a plea seeking his consent at a panel meeting Tuesday and is set to approve it at a plenary session next week, the officials said.
"When the plenary session shows its stance, 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 the 1986 Chernobyl accident.
At the Onagawa complex, all three reactors -- the same boiling water reactors as in Fukushima -- shut down when a massive quake and a 13-meter tsunami hit northeastern Japan 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 of the type that occurred at three of the six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.
Tohoku Electric Power Co. aims to restart the Onagawa No. 2 reactor in 2022 at the earliest, after completing anti-disaster work such as the construction of an 800-meter-long seawall at the plant. 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.