UPDATE 2-Japan declares two idled reactors safe to restart

Fri Apr 13, 2012 12:35pm EDT

Related Topics

* Tokyo now to seek understanding of local communities

* Trade Minister Edano says to visit Fukui on Saturday

* Edano: hurdle high, no deadline on restart timing (Adds background, Edano, Ohi mayor and public comments)

By Risa Maeda and Yoko Kubota

TOKYO, April 13 (Reuters) - Two idled Japanese nuclear reactors have been declared safe and will need to be restarted to avoid a summer power crunch in western Japan, the trade minister said on Friday, a step towards the first restart in Japan since last year's Fukushima crisis.

Trade Minister Yukio Edano also said that he will visit Fukui prefecture, host to the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co's Ohi nuclear power plant, on Saturday to meet with the governor and Ohi town mayor and to convince them of the necessity for the restarts.

But hurdles still remain for the government, which could face a political backlash if it fails to convince the public carrying fresh memories of last year's radiation crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant, triggered by an earthquake and tsunami.

"We've confirmed safety and necessity for restart of the reactors, and we're now entering into a stage to seek understanding of local communities and the public," Edano told a new conference after a meeting on the restart with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and two other ministers.

"Those outside of Fukushima also saw how a nuclear power plant said to be safe went through a crisis and how people are still living under difficult conditions, so the hurdle to obtain understanding is very high," he said.

The four ministers agreed that the two reactors would be resilient against a severe event like the huge quake and tsunami that wrecked the Fukushima plant and that the restart would be necessary to avoid a sudden power shortage in the summer in Kansai Electric's service area.

All but one of Japan's 54 nuclear reactors are now off line, most of them for regular maintenance checks, as public concerns over nuclear safety have kept them from restarting. The last reactor will shut down on May 5.

Edano, who holds the energy portfolio, said that Kansai Electric's power supply this summer may fall by up to 20 percent short of peak-hour demand and that a sudden power outage would have a wide impact.

He repeated his hope to avoid a mandatory power usage restriction order like the one the government issued in eastern Japan last year.

NO DEADLINE, BUT RUSHING?

Edano set no deadline for the reactor restarts, but implied that he hopes to obtain public backing by July, when the hottest season starts.

Fukui prefecture, host to 13 reactors, cannot legally block restarts, but Tokyo has made clear it is reluctant to override wary public opinion.

Ohi town mayor Shinobu Tokioka welcomed the ministers' decision.

"I want the central government to explain as soon as possible to the residents," he was shown on public broadcaster NHK as saying.

But to some, the government's push appears too rushed.

"It just seems like they already have an answer and all they are doing is to go through the process to make it look as proper as possible," said 45-year-old Osaka resident Eiji Suzuki, one of the more than 100 anti-nuclear protesters standing outside of the prime minister's office during the ministers' meeting.

Before the Fukushima crisis, nuclear met more than 40 percent of power need in Kansai's service region around Osaka, Japan's second-biggest city, where several top electronics makers operate their factories.

Some local governments neighbouring Fukui are also becoming vocal about having a say over the restart, though Edano has not said whether he will go there and explain himself. (Reporting by Risa Maeda and Yoko Kubota; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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