Japan says existing nuclear reactors are safe

TOKYO, June 18, 2011 (AFP) - Japan's industry minister said Saturday that existing nuclear reactors should be restarted, after confirming additional measures had been taken to safeguard them from possible emergencies.

Banri Kaieda said the government would ask communities near atomic power plants to allow the restart of reactors which had been taken offline for routine inspections or due to damage from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami or for other reasons.

AFP - A girl places a chrysanthemum on an altar to offer prayers at a ceremony to mark 100 days since the March 11 massive earthquake which killed over 15,000 people at Ishinomaki city in Miyagi prefecture on June 18, 2011.

He said nuclear reactors were necessary to provide enough electricity to power industries and households.

"If the nuclear power plants are not able to operate even with the safety measures, it could cause industries to stagnate and increase the worries in the lives of the Japanese people," Kaieda told reporters.

"I ask for cooperation from residents of local communities," he said.

It was not clear how communities hosting nuclear plants would respond, as Kaieda needs agreements from local governments to bring reactors online even after routine inspections.

Of Japan's 54 commercial nuclear reactors, 17 are currently operating, the ministry said. Two other units are in test operation but offline.

The remaining 35 reactors, including six at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, have remained shutdown due to quake damage or routine inspections, according to local media.

Kaieda's announcement came after the government demanded nuclear plant operators take additional safety measures to prevent a recurrence of accidents similar to the one at the Fukushima plant.

The March 11 tsunami and earthquake knocked out cooling systems and emergency backup generators at the Fukushima plant, leading to meltdowns and radiation leaks in the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

"I ask that power plants be restarted," the minister said.

"If necessary, I will visit communities myself to explain and seek understanding," he said.

Resource-poor Japan generates about 30 percent of its power from nuclear plants.

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