Originally created 08/05/98

Japan to build its first commercial nuclear power plant in 10 years



TOKYO -- Japan will build its first commercial nuclear power plant in 10 years, despite public opposition and safety fears, officials said Tuesday.

After months of discussion, the government's five-member Nuclear Safety Commission approved the new plant Monday.

Under the plans, construction of a reactor with an electricity generation capacity of 1.1 million kilowatts will begin in December, said officials at the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, which will oversee the project.

The new plant will be located in Higashidori, about 400 miles northeast of Tokyo and will be operated by Tohoku Electric Power Co. It is slated to start operations in July 2005, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The local assembly in Higashidori adopted a resolution to accept the nuclear power plant in 1965, but local opposition delayed it, the Asahi newspaper said. That resistance has fallen off, the newspaper said.

Resource-poor Japan last approved construction of a nuclear power plant in 1988 in Shika, 185 miles northwest of Tokyo.

A temporary nuclear waste storage facility is under construction at Rokkasho, 325 miles northeast of Tokyo. Antinuclear activists say Rokkasho is a dangerous place for storage because it sits on earthquake fault lines.

The commission said the new nuclear facility will be able to withstand a 6.5-magnitude earthquake.

Trust in Japan's nuclear industry has fallen in recent years following a series of accidents and cover-ups by plant operators. A fire in March 1997 exposed 37 workers to low-level radiation in a fuel processing facility.

Japan has 51 commercial nuclear power plants, supplying about one-third of the nation's electricity, according to government figures.