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Japan sets new safety standards after disaster

– Japan announced new guidelines Friday for how its nuclear power plants try to prevent disasters like last year’s meltdowns, as the government aims to ease public concern about restarting idled reactors.

Facing a national power crunch, the government is anxious to restart two reactors in Fukui, western Japan, before the last operating reactor of the 54 in the country goes offline in May.

But the public strongly opposes nuclear energy since the meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, and local leaders are reluctant to approve restarting any of the reactors.

The guidelines announced Friday are more extensive than computer-simulated “stress tests” designed to estimate how reactors would cope in the event of a major earthquake and tsunami like what overwhelmed Fukushima Dai-ichi last year.

Unlike in France and other countries where stress tests are meant to find weaknesses or suspend a facility, Japan tried to use them as a safety guarantee. Many people questioned the objectivity of the tests, though two reactors passed them.

If utilities meet the new guidelines, authorities hope the public will be convinced the reactors are safe, including the two in Ohi, Fukui prefecture, that have finished regular safety checks and the stress tests and are ready to restart.