A power plant operator in southern Japan restarted a nuclear reactor today, the first to begin operating under new safety requirements following the Fukushima disaster. Kyushu Electric Power Co. says it has restarted the No. 1 reactor at its Sendai nuclear plant as planned. The restart marks Japan's return to nuclear energy four-and-a-half years after the 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan following an earthquake and tsunami. The Fukushima disaster displaced more than 100,000 people due to radioactive contamination, and a majority of Japanese oppose the return to nuclear energy.
Dozens of protesters, including ex-Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who was in office at the time of the disaster and has become an outspoken critic of nuclear power, were gathered outside the plant as police stood guard. "Accidents are unpredictable, that's why they happen. And certainly not all the necessary precautions for such accidents have been taken here," Kan told the crowd. All of Japan's 43 workable reactors were idled for the past two years pending safety checks. To offset the shortfall in power output, the country ramped up imports of oil and gas and fired up more thermal power plants, slowing progress toward reducing its emissions of greenhouse gases. (Read more Japan stories.)