Back in March of 2011, Japan suffered its worst nuclear disaster ever as the Fukushima nuclear power plant suffered a series of equipment failures and meltdowns due to a massive earthquake. It was the largest-scale nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986 and caused the shutdown of all but two of Japan's 50 nuclear reactors. More than two years later, it looks like Japan's nuclear power plants will soon be coming back to life under tighter regulations. The AP is reporting that the country's nuclear regulation authority has approved new safety requirements which should lead to the eventual reopening of Japan's nuclear power plants later this year or early next year. The new requirements will go into effect on July 8th, at which point operators will be able to apply for inspections; assuming the plants pass, they'll be cleared to reopen.

Only two of Japan's 50 nuclear reactors are currently in operation

There's been significant interest in getting Japan's nuclear reactors back online to ease rising energy costs as the country's conventional thermal power plants have struggled to make up the shortfall — but there are also concerns that the new regulations were rushed through. Critics have cited several loopholes, such as a five-year grace period on installing new, mandatory safety equipment, as evidence that outside political or industrial pressure pushed these new regulations through despite the fact that the launch date for these updated safety rules is almost two weeks away.

In addition to the new regulations, Japan will also be taking a more proactive approach to keeping its safety standards up to par. Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of Japan's nuclear watchdog committee, said that requirements would continue to be revised whenever possible to take into account new safety advances and findings from around the world. Of course, new regulations don't change the fact that Japan is the most earthquake-prone country on the planet, but one of the new rules will hopefully account for that as much as possible — nuclear plant operators must ensure that fault lines running directly underneath reactors are inactive.