Japan’s new leaders set to work Thursday on dismantling plans to rid the country of nuclear power by 2040, pledging to review a post-Fukushima policy.
The pro-business Liberal Democratic Party-led government also said they would give the green light to any reactors deemed safe by regulators, indicating shuttered power stations could start coming back online.
Shinzo Abe, who was elected as prime minister and unveiled his cabinet line-up on Wednesday, appointed Motegi as his economy, trade and industry minister, also in charge of supervising the nuclear industry.
Abe’s LDP won a landslide victory in the December 16 election, returning to power after a three-year break.
Despite anti-nuclear sentiment running high in Japan following the Fukushima disaster, parties opposing atomic energy made little impact at the ballot box.
Motegi said he was ready to give the go-ahead to resuming generation at nuclear power plants “if they are confirmed safe”.
All but two of Japan’s reactors remain offline after being shuttered for regular safety checks following the crisis at Fukushima when a tsunami knocked out cooling systems.
Hundreds of thousands of people were made homeless by meltdowns, which spewed radiation over a wide area of farmland.
Power plant operators must get permission from the newly-formed Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) before their reactors can be restarted.
In June then-prime minister Yoshihiko Noda ordered the restarting of reactors at Oi amid fears of a summer power shortage, but he vowed ahead of the election to phase out nuclear power by 2040.
Motegi said abandoning Japan’s only reprocessing plant for spent nuclear fuel at Rokkasho in the far north “is not an option”.
Some experts have warned the plant could sit on an active seismic fault and would be vulnerable to a massive earthquake.
If regulators agree they will have to order its closure and Japan would be without any recycling capacity of its own.
Resource-poor Japan, which relied on atomic power for around a third of its electricity has poured billions of dollars into its nuclear fuel recycling programme, in which uranium and plutonium are extracted from spent fuel for re-use in nuclear power plants.