Japan is set to give the go-ahead to restart its idled nuclear industry just as it moves to definitively close some of its oldest reactors, launching a cull of the long-monolithic industry.
As Japan nears the end of its first full year without nuclear power since 1966, regulators are expected to give final safety approval on Wednesday to restart a power station in the south of the country.
At the same time, the government is pressing regulators to make the tough decision on whether to decommission the oldest of the country's 48 reactors, which face higher safety hurdles than the rest. A quarter of those reactors could be targeted for permanent shutdown.
By weeding out reactors that are 40 years old or more, the government appears to be trying to win support for the long process of restarts from a public that turned against nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima disaster, the worst since Chernobyl in 1986.
"For myself, I would like to proceed with smooth decommissioning (of some plants) and at the same time the restart of nuclear power stations certified as safe," Yuko Obuchi, the new minister for economy, trade and industry, who oversees the nuclear industry, said last week.
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been pressing to restart reactors that receive safety approval from the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) to reduce Japan's reliance on expensive imported fuel.
But until recently, the government had not stressed the need for making hard choices about the oldest reactors.
The push for a reckoning on some plants is "clearly part of the strategy by the government and utilities to send a signal to the people of Japan that they are listening and taking into account the lessons of Fukushima", said prominent nuclear-power critic Arnie Gundersen, director of Fairewinds Energy Education.