Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said on Friday he has decided that two idled nuclear reactors in western Japan must be restarted to protect jobs and avoid damage to the economy, adding that steps had been taken to prevent a recurrence of the Fukushima disaster.
The decision - expected to be confirmed at a meeting with key ministers - will ease worries about power shortages among firms in the region, including struggling electronics giants Panasonic Corp and Sharp Corp.
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But the move, seen by many as a first step to bringing more reactors on line, could undermine Noda's already sagging support among voters still worried about safety after the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years.
Noda said the government had confirmed that even if Kansai Electric Co's two reactors at its Ohi plant in Fukui lost power as happened after Fukushima, there would be no damage to the reactors' core.
"Cheap and stable electricity is vital. If all the reactors that previously provided 30 percent of Japan's electricity supply are halted, or kept idle, Japanese society cannot survive," Noda said, pointing to the possibility that more companies would shift production offshore and jobs would be lost.
"It is my decision that Ohi reactors No.3 and No.4 should be restarted to protect the people's livelihoods," Noda said. Nuclear power had supplied nearly 30 percent of Japan's electricity needs before last year's earthquake and tsunami wrecked the Fukushima plant.
All of the country's 50 reactors have been taken offline since then, risking power shortages especially in the western metropolis of Osaka and other parts of Kansai Electric Power Co's service area.
A group of regional governors, long concerned about whether it was safe to resume power generation at the two reactors, last week signaled their agreement to the restarts as a "limited" step.
But the governor of the host prefecture of Fukui has yet to sign off, saying the ball was in the government's court and insisting that Noda make his stance clear to the public. A formal decision is expected to be made at a meeting of Noda and other key ministers after the Fukui governor responds.