” TOKYO, Oct 21 (Reuters) – Japan’s newly appointed trade minister, Yoichi Miyazawa, said on Tuesday that he would continue with the policy of seeking to restart nuclear reactors deemed safe by the atomic regulator.
Miyazawa, speaking to reporters, also said he would move towards restarting Kyushu Electric Power Co’s Sendai plant in southwestern Japan.
As head of Japan’s powerful Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), Miyazawa faces the tough task of selling the unpopular policy of restarting the country’s idled nuclear plants amid continued safety fears after the Fukushima disaster.
The new minister’s comments could help ease concerns of nuclear power supporters from the sudden departure of his predecessor, Yuko Obuchi, who was viewed as a favourable candidate to sell the government’s policy of restarting nuclear plants.
“There is no question that atomic power is an important baseload energy source for Japan’s future,” said Miyazawa, adding he planned to visit Kagoshima, home to Kyushu Electric Power Co’s Sendai plant, at the earliest opportunity to meet with local authorities.
Miyazawa, a former vice economics minister, replaces Obuchi, who resigned on Monday less than two months after her appointment after allegations that her support groups misused political funds.
Obuchi’s sudden departure from METI was seen as a disappointment for some, who hoped her role as a mother would soften public skepticism towards Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s policy of restarting nuclear plants.
All 48 of Japan’s nuclear reactors were gradually taken offline after 2011 and opinion polls have consistently shown that a majority of Japanese are opposed to restarting reactors since the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi station after an earthquake and tsunami.
Kyushu Electric’s two-reactor Sendai plant passed the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s (NRA) key safety check last month and is expected to be the first to be restarted under strict guidelines set by an independent regulatory agency.
The utility still needs to pass operational safety checks by the nuclear regulator, making it difficult to determine the timing of the restart even after local approval. ”