Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), the operator of Japan’s stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, gained initial approval to restart reactors at another atomic facility.

This is the first step toward the firm’s return to nuclear power generation more than six years after the March 2011 meltdown of three reactors.

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Japan’s nuclear regulator Wednesday approved an application from TEPCO to restart two reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa – the world’s biggest nuclear power plant – even as the utility struggles to decommission Fukushima Daiichi.

The process will involve reviews and consultations with the public, and the restart is also expected to encounter strong opposition from people living near the plant on the Japan Sea coast of Niigata prefecture.

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The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) ruled the No 6 and No 7 reactors, each with a capacity of 1,356 megawatts, met stringent new safety standards introduced after the Fukushima disaster. The authority’s five commissioners voted unanimously to approve the restarts at a Wednesday meeting.

TEPCO said it took the regulatory authority’s decision seriously and would continue making safety improvements at its plants while it attempted to decommission Fukushima Daiichi and compensate evacuees.

Despite the NRA’s approval, it could take years for the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors to go back into operation.

The governor of Niigata, Ryuichi Yoneyama, has said he will not decide on whether to agree to the restarts until TEPCO completes its review of the Fukushima accident – a process that is expected to take at least another three years.

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