TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan's new trade minister said he expects nuclear reactors idled for routine maintenance to restart once safety is confirmed and local communities give their approval, reflecting Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's view that nuclear power will play a continued role in the country's energy mix.
Yukio Edano made no further comment on the likely timing for reactor restarts, which have been delayed by public concerns about nuclear safety in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi radiation crisis, threatening power shortages as more reactors go offline for inspections and maintenance.
Edano also told a news conference on Tuesday that safety checks should be done thoroughly and in a way that is easy for local residents to understand.
Edano served as chief cabinet secretary under previous Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who had taken a hard line toward nuclear power and called for more ambitious efforts to boost renewable energy.
The March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which triggered the Fukushima crisis, spurred the government to require utilities to carry out two-stage stress tests to gauge the resilience of nuclear plants to a massive earthquake or other unforeseen events.
"I think one purpose of conducting the stress tests is to make checks transparent and specific, and to explain the results in a way that's easy to understand," Edano said.
He said there was no room for politics in determining the safety of nuclear reactors, but he implied there should be flexibility in determining whether local residents have given consent to reactor restarts, calling for "comprehensive judgments."
Edano said he wanted to avoid mandatory reductions of power use in the winter, and hoped to achieve this by encouraging households and offices to conserve power.
At his inaugural news conference as trade minister late on Monday, Edano said Japan should strive to become a society that does not depend on nuclear power, although he stopped short of calling for an eventual closure of all nuclear power plants.
On the U.S.-led talks on the proposed Transpacific Partnership pact (TPP), Edano said while there was a global push for progress on the pact, Japan must first reach a consensus among interested domestic parties before determining whether to join talks.
Edano replaced Yoshio Hachiro, who resigned after only eight days as trade minister following gaffes related to the Fukushima plant. The trade minister also oversees energy policy.
(Reporting by Risa Maeda and Chikako Mogi; Editing by Edmund Klamann)