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Japanese Court Approves Restart of Reactors

FILE - An employee of Kyushu Electric Power Co walks in front of reactor buildings at the company's Sendai nuclear power plant in Satsumasendai, Kagoshima prefecture.

A Japanese court has approved the restart of Kyushu Electric Power's Sendai nuclear power station, plaintiffs said on Wednesday, rejecting a legal bid to halt the process by residents worried about the safety of the plant.

The decision by the Kagoshima District Court clears another hurdle for the plant to begin starting up as early as June as the government pushes to restart Japan's idled nuclear industry four years after the Fukushima disaster.

It also suggests another court ruling last week to prevent the operation of two reactors west of Tokyo may have been an aberration for Japan's conservative judiciary, which anti-nuclear activists are petitioning to block restarts as a majority of the public remains opposed to atomic power.

The Sendai reactors, on the coast of Kagoshima prefecture in southwestern Japan, are “very close” to getting final regulatory approval to being operations, an official from Japan's nuclear regulator told Reuters earlier this month.

Cleared regulatory hurdles

Four years after a quake and tsunami wrecked the Fukushima Daiichi plant north of Tokyo, leading to meltdowns and mass evacuations, the Sendai reactors have cleared most regulatory hurdles and could begin starting up as early as June.

A court order preventing Kyushu Electric from operating Sendai would have risked tying up the industry in legal battles for months or years.

A spokeswoman at Kyushu Electric contacted by phone said the company could not immediately comment.

Kyushu Electric shares rose after the decision and were 2.5 percent higher at 0134 GMT.

Local residents who submitted a request to prevent the restart of the Sendai reactors argued the utility and regulator has underestimated the risk of nearby volcanoes and operational plans lack credible evacuation measures.

Kyushu Electric denies this and the Nuclear Regulation Authority says it sees no need to change its rules, after last week's ruling said the regulations “lack rationality.”

The decision is a boost for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who wants to reboot nuclear to help reduce high energy costs and reduce reliance on expensive fossil fuel imports.