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Japanese Prime Minister OKs Restart Of Two Nuclear Reactors

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda (file photo)
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has ordered the restart of two nuclear reactors, the first restart since an earthquake and tsunami caused a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in March 2011.

Since the disaster, all 50 of the country's reactors have been shut down, either for testing or maintenance.

Noda gave the go-ahead to reactivate the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Oi plant near Kyoto in order to avoid a summer energy crunch as demand for power soars.

Japan's trade and industry minister, Yukio Edano, said safety was the top priority. "It will take some time for the reactors to begin generating electricity, and we request people to continue to save energy," he said.

The company that owns the Oi reactors says it will take at least three weeks to get the first reactor back online.

Noda met on June 16 with the local governor, who later told reporters that he approved the plan to restart the reactors. He said it would provide "stability for our industries."

Public opposition to nuclear power has been high since the Fukushima meltdown, which was the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chornobyl disaster.

Several hundred antinuclear protesters gathered outside the prime minister's residence on June 16 to oppose the restart.

Protester Hiroko Otsuki said it was crucial to reduce Japan's reliance on nuclear energy.

"I think we can cope if we cut back our lifestyles," Otsuki said. "If everyone gets behind that idea then we can do without nuclear power -- that's the most important thing."

After last year's Fukushima disaster, tens of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes and large areas remain off-limits because of high radiation levels.

Before the crisis, nuclear accounted for about one-third of Japan's electricity production. Now the government is proposing a program to generate between 25 percent and 35 percent of the country's electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

Based on reporting by AFP and AP