Governor of Japan's Niigata resigns to avoid 'turmoil' over magazine article

TOKYO (Reuters) - The governor of Japan’s Niigata prefecture, home to the world’s largest nuclear power plant, resigned on Wednesday, saying he hoped to avoid political turmoil over an impending magazine article about his relations with women.

The governor of Japan's Niigata prefecture Ryuichi Yoneyama speaks at an interview with Reuters in Tokyo, Japan June 8, 2017. Picture taken on June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

News that the governor, Ryuichi Yoneyama, intended to resign sent shares of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc (Tepco) surging as investors bet his departure could make it easier for the utility to restart its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, which is in Niigata prefecture.

Japan has had few reported “#MeToo” cases about sexual harassment involving public figures but Yoneyama’s resignation came on the same day Japan’s top finance bureaucrat resigned on after a magazine said he had sexually harassed several female reporters. The official denied the allegation.

Yoneyama, like his predecessor, is opposed to a restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant and has been a block to attempts to get the station going by the utility, which also owns the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station.

Yoneyama told Reuters last year a better understanding of the Fukushima disaster of 2011 was needed before he would sign off on a restart at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa.

Tepco shares closed 4 percent higher on Wednesday after media reported Yoneyama would resign. The broader market rose about 1.4 percent.

Yoneyama, who is single, said it was possible that some of the presents and money he had given to women he dated could be misinterpreted and that he was resigning to avoid further political turmoil over the issue.

“It really hurts me that I can’t complete the task of tackling the safety of the nuclear plant,” he told a news conference.

Kashiwazaki-Kariwa is the world’s largest nuclear power plant and restarting the site’s seven reactors is crucial to Tepco’s recovery plans in the wake of the meltdowns at its Fukushima plant in 2011.

Tepco has approval from regulators to start two reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, but the company needs to carry out further work before the restarts. While not a legal requirement, the sign off of the governor is also required.

Reporting by Elaine Lies; Writing by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Robert Birsel