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Mon, 11 Jun 2012 11:16 - Updated Mon, 11 Jun 2012 11:16

Japan "must restart" two nuclear reactors

Japan

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Japan - Japan must restart two nuclear reactors to protect the country's economy and livelihoods, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has said in a televised broadcast.

Measures to ensure the safety of two reactors at western Japan's Ohi nuclear plant have been undertaken, he said.

Since last year's Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan's 50 reactors have been shut down for routine maintenance.

The crisis fuelled immense public opposition to nuclear power, but Japan is facing a summer of power shortages.

Japan's last nuclear shut down for routine maintenance was in May. When the third reactor at the Tomari plant in Hokkaido prefecture was switched off, Japan was left without energy from atomic power for the first time in more than 40 years.

Public confidence in nuclear safety was shaken by the meltdowns at the Fukushima power plant, triggered by last year's devastating earthquake and tsunami.

In making the television address, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has very publicly taken responsibility for restarting the nuclear reactors.

Indeed, it was a condition set by the governor of Fukui, which hosts the Ohi plant, before he gives his blessing.

The government had hoped to build more of a national consensus. Ministers have spent weeks wooing local leaders.

But nuclear power is a hugely controversial issue in Japan. Mr Noda warned Japanese society cannot survive without cheap and stable power.

He could now make a formal decision to restart the two reactors at Ohi. They are the first to have gone through new stress tests to check their resistance to natural disasters.

But any decision by Mr Noda could unleash strong criticism.

Opinion polls show many Japanese would rather try to get through the summer by cutting back on their electricity consumption.

"Cheap and stable electricity is vital. If all the reactors that previously provided 30% of Japan's electricity supply are halted, or kept idle, Japanese society cannot survive," Mr Noda said.

He added that some companies could possibly move production out of Japan, losing vital jobs as a result.

"It is my decision that Ohi reactors No 3 and No 4 should be restarted to protect the people's livelihoods," he said.