Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Friday night said Japan must restart two nuclear reactors to protect the economy and people's livelihoods.
Speaking in a news conference broadcast live to the nation, Noda said the government has taken ample measures to ensure the safety of the two reactors at the Ohi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture.
All 50 workable reactors are offline for maintenance and safety concerns. Restarting them has been a public concern because of the Fukushima disaster last year.
Noda's government is desperately seeking to gain public support to restart the reactors to avert a summertime energy crunch.
Noda called on local authorities to allow operations to resume at the Oi nuclear plant.
"Reactors No. 3 and 4 should restart to support people's lives, that's my decision," Noda said. "Therefore, I ask for the consent of local governments."
"Nuclear generation is an important power source (and) energy security is one of the country's most important issues."
Noda said nuclear power would continue to play a long term role in Japan, which has virtually no natural resources and is increasingly dependent on Middle East oil.
"The question is not only the short-term power supply in the summer. If electricity fees go up due to an increasing dependence on fossil fuel, it would affect people like retailers, small- and mid-size companies and general households which are barely making ends meet," he said.
"If that leads to a hollowing out of business, it would decrease employment opportunities. The temporary operation of the reactors in summer would not secure our way of life.
"I promise, again, to secure the safety of nuclear power and continue making uninterrupted efforts to improve it."
A group of regional governors, long concerned about safety at the Kansai Electric Power Co’s two reactors in Ohi, last week signaled their agreement to the restarts as a “limited” step.
However, Fukui Gov Issei Nishikawa had remained unconvinced. During a meeting with nuclear disaster minister Goshi Hosono on Monday, he said that Noda has not satisfactorily explained to the public why it is necessary to restart the reactors. He questioned whether restarting the reactors was just a short-term measure or whether it was really necessary for the Japanese economy.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said that Noda decided to hold the news conference in response to Nishikawa's request.
The final decision on whether to restart the reactors is likely to be made by the end of next week by Noda, Economy, Industry and Trade Minister Yukio Edano, Nuclear Disaster Management Minister Goshi Hosono and Fujimura.
Although, legally, the government doesn't need permission from local communities to restart reactors, Noda has repeatedly said he would like their approval. The Oi local assembly has already given its OK, and the government got a surprise boost when Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto reversed his stance last week and agreed to a "limited" restart.
The reactors at Oi are so far the only ones that are anywhere near gaining the necessary approval, but the process has become a kind of Mexican stand-off in which neither local politicians nor the central government in Tokyo has been willing to make the first move.
But increasingly alarmist warnings of summer power blackouts, with some estimates suggesting certain areas could see electricity supply fall as much as 20% short of demand, have added urgency to the issue.© Japan Today/wire reports