TOKYO — Japan’s government Saturday approved bringing the country’s first nuclear reactors back online since last year’s earthquake and tsunami led to a nationwide shutdown, going against wider public opinion that is opposed to nuclear power after Fukushima.

The decision paves the way for a power company to immediately begin work to restart two reactors in Ohi town.

Despite lingering safety concerns, the restart could speed the resumption of operations at more reactors across the country. All Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors are offline for maintenance or safety checks.

Public opposition to the resumption of nuclear operations remains high because of the crisis the tsunami touched off at Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, the worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl. As the government announced its decision, a protest was held outside the prime minister’s offices.

The restart is being closely watched as an indicator of how aggressively the government will act to approve operations at other reactors. It has been pushing hard to bring some reactors online to avert power shortages as demand increases during the summer months. It says the reactors in the town of Ohi are particularly important because they are in an area that relied heavily on nuclear before the crisis, and have passed safety checks.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced the approval after Ohi’s mayor and the local governor publicly said they support the plan