* Japanese public wary, split on nuclear power
* Government likely to await ruling by authorities in
* Critics say government too hasty in seeking restart of
By Linda Sieg
TOKYO, May 14 The assembly in a western Japanese
town that hosts a nuclear plant agreed on Monday it was
necessary to restart two off-line reactors, domestic media said,
the first such nod since all the country's stations were halted
after the Fukushima crisis.
With power shortages looming in the region when demand peaks
this summer, the central government has been trying to win
approval from towns and prefectures that host reactors. All 50
reactors are off-line since the last one shut down for
maintenance on May 5.
The government is set to urge businesses and consumers in
Kansai Electric Power Co's service area in western Japan to make
voluntary power cuts of 15 percent this summer to cope with
shortages, media reported.
That would avoid the mandatory restrictions imposed in some
regions last year after the Fukushima crisis, the worst since
Chernobyl in 1986, with three reactors suffering meltdowns after
the plant was hit by a huge earthquake and tsunami.
The central government last month said reactors No. 3 and
No. 4 at Kansai Electric Power Co's plant in Ohi, Fukui
prefecture, 360 km (225 miles) west of Tokyo, were safe to
Officials must still persuade a wary public - including
residents of regions close enough to be at risk from a nuclear
accident but too distant to reap economic rewards - that a
resumption is safe. Delays in setting up a new nuclear
regulatory agency due to disputes in parliament have further
Members of the Ohi town assembly noted that many residents
still had concerns about safety, but most local lawmakers felt
restarts were essential for the town's economy, Kyodo news
Ohi received about 2.5 billion yen ($31 million)in subsidies
in the financial year to March 2010 related to Kansai Electric's
four reactors. Many jobs also depend in some way on the plant.
The central government has no legal obligation to win local
approval, but is unlikely to proceed with restarts without the
agreement of the host town and prefectural government.
It is uncertain, though, whether Tokyo authorities would
override opposition from nearby prefectures with public opinion
A weekend survey by the pro-nuclear power Yomiuri newspaper
showed that 45 percent of respondents backed restarting reactors
deemed safe and an equal number were opposed.
Ohi Mayor Shinobu Tokioka will take the assembly's view into
account but intends to wait for a ruling by a prefectural panel
of experts on safety before conveying a decision to Fukui
Governor Issei Nishikawa, Kyodo said. That decision could come
Some critics say the government is making undue haste to get
reactors up and running because surviving peak summer demand
without nuclear power would make it hard to convince the public
that atomic energy is vital.
Environmental group Greenpeace said the government's
"reckless push" to get reactors back in service "has left many
communities thinking they have to choose between risks to their
health and safety, and risks to their jobs and prosperity.
"Japan is surviving without nuclear power and can continue
to do so with proper energy demand management and leadership
from the government," Greenpeace added.
Nuclear power produced nearly 30 percent of Japan's
electricity before the crisis. The government is working on a
energy mix policy it hopes to unveil this summer, replacing a
programme that had aimed to boost the share of atomic power to
more than 50 percent by 2030.
($1 = 79.8800 Japanese yen)
(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Aaron Sheldrick and Ron