A nuclear reactor started producing electricity early Thursday in western Japan, the first reactor in the country to restart since last year’s disaster prompted public opposition to nuclear power.

Japan regained nuclear-generated electricity as reactor 3 at the Oi Nuclear Power Plant on the Sea of Japan coast was connected to the generator and transmission grid.

Kansai Electric Power Co reactivated the unit Sunday, the first to restart since last year’s disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

“We believe we have made a step toward the safe and stable supply of electricity by being able to deliver nuclear-generated electricity for the first time in four and a half months,” company president Makoto Yagi said in a statement, referring to the halt in late February of the last of its 11 reactors.

The unit was expected to be generating at full capacity by Monday.

In mid-June, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda approved the reactivation of reactors 3 and 4 of the plant. Unit 4 will reportedly restart on July 18 and be running at full capacity by July 25.

The nation’s worst-ever atomic accident in March 2011 prompted public safety concerns that prevented operators from restarting reactors as they were shut down one by one for maintenance or safety checks. The remaining 49 reactors across the country remain idle.

The Fukushima plant, run by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), went into meltdown after it was struck by the earthquake and tsunami. Tens of thousands of residents have been forced to leave the areas near the complex.

Nuclear-generated electricity made up about 30 per cent of Japan’s output before the disaster. The rising cost of importing fuel for thermal power generation to make up the shortfall has put pressure on the government and utilities to restart the reactors.

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