The Associated Press
TOKYO -- Japan moved closer yesterday to restarting nuclear reactors for the first time since last year's earthquake and tsunami led to a nationwide shutdown.
All 50 of Japan's workable reactors are offline because of safety concerns or for maintenance since the March 11, 2011, disaster touched off a crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. Public opposition to nuclear power remains high, though the government has been pressing for the restart of reactors because it says nuclear energy is crucial to Japan's economy.
Power companies have warned of shortages in the months ahead, as demand reaches its summer peak.
Work to restart two reactors in the western town of Ohi, which are the first ready to resume generating power, could begin as soon as this weekend, now that the mayor, Shinobu Tokioka, signed off on the plan. Once the work begins, it takes about three weeks to get a reactor operating at full capacity.
The governor of Fukui, the prefecture in which Ohi is located, now has to meet with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to inform him that the local governments are willing to accept the restart plan. The prime minister has to give final approval, which Japanese media reports said was likely to happen Saturday.
"We want to move ahead as quickly as possible once we receive the approval," said Takahiro Senoo, a spokesman for Kansai Electric Power Co., which runs the plant. If work is begun soon, he said, the plant could be up and running in time to meet the summer crunch, in mid-July or August.
Tokioka said he approved the plan because he is concerned about possible power shortages and the impact on the local economy.
Local consent is not legally required for restarting the reactors, but the government wants the support because of the sensitivity of the issue. The public has shown great concern that government failures worsened the crisis at Fukushima and may recur.
Last year's massive earthquake and tsunami caused explosions and meltdowns at the Fukushima plant, which is north of Tokyo.