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Japan looks to restart reactors in a post-Fukashima world

OHI, Japan (AP) — International inspectors are visiting a rugged Japanese bay region so thick with reactors it is dubbed “Nuclear Alley,” where residents remain deeply conflicted as Japan moves to restart plants idled after the Fukushima disaster.

The local economy depends heavily on the industry, and the national government hopes that “stress tests” at idled plants — the first of which is being reviewed this week by the International Atomic Energy Agency — will show they are safe enough to switch back on.

But last year’s tsunami crisis in northeastern Japan with meltdowns at three of the Fukushima reactors has fanned opposition to the plants here in western Fukui prefecture, a mountainous region surrounding Wakasa Bay that also relies on fishing and tourism and where the governor has come out strongly against nuclear power.

“We don’t need another Fukushima, and we don’t want to repeat the same mistake here,” said Eiichi Inoue, a 63-year-old retiree in the coastal town of Obama. “I know they added stress tests, but what exactly are they doing?”

“I oppose restarting them,” he said.

Other residents said that economic realities made the plants indispensable, including Chikako Shimamoto, a 38-year-old fitness instructor in Takahama, a town that hosts one of the region’s nuclear plants.

“We all know that we better not restart them,” Shimamoto said. “But we need jobs and we need business in this town.

“Our lives in this town depends on the nuclear power plant and we have no choice,” she said.

On Thursday, an IAEA team visited a plant in the town of Ohi to check whether officials at operator Kansai Electric Power Co. had correctly done the tests at two reactors. The tests are designed to assess whether plants can withstand earthquakes, tsunamis, loss of power or other emergencies, and suggest changes to improve safety.

Their visit, at Japan’s invitation, appeared aimed at reassuring a skeptical public that authorities are taking the necessary precautions before bringing nuclear plants back on line. After the visit, IAEA team leader James Lyons said its assessment would be released at the end of the month but deciding whether to restart the reactors was up to the Japanese goverment.

Some experts are critical of the stress tests, saying they are meaningless because they have no clear criteria, and view the IAEA as biased toward the nuclear industry.

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