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Japan assembly OKs restarting of reactors

TOKYO -- The assembly in a western Japanese town that hosts a nuclear plant agreed on Monday it was necessary to restart two offline reactors, its chairman said, the first such nod since all the country's stations were halted after the Fukushima crisis.

With power shortages looming in the region when demand peaks this summer, the central government has been trying to win approval from towns and prefectures that host reactors. All 50 reactors are offline since the last one shut down for maintenance on May 5.

The government is set to urge businesses and consumers in Kansai Electric Power Co's service area in western Japan to make voluntary power cuts of 15 percent this summer to cope with shortages, media reported.

The Nikkei business daily, however, said that the government would also consider mandatory power cuts and rolling blackouts if necessary.

Mandatory restrictions were imposed in some regions last year after the Fukushima crisis, the worst since Chernobyl in 1986, with three reactors suffering meltdowns after the plant was hit by a huge earthquake and tsunami.

The central government last month said reactors No. 3 and No. 4 at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s plant in Ohi, Fukui prefecture, 360 km (225 miles) west of Tokyo, were safe to restart.

Officials must still persuade a wary public — including residents of regions close enough to be at risk from a nuclear accident but too distant to reap economic rewards — that a resumption is safe. Delays in setting up a new nuclear regulatory agency due to disputes in parliament have further spooked voters.

Kinya Shintani, the chairman of Ohi town assembly, said that the local economy and employment have been affected by the reactor halts.

“Largely understanding the necessity of nuclear power and taking into consideration the residents' opinions as well as the impact on consumers' livelihoods and the economy, we decided to agree to a restart,” he said in a statement.

Ohi received about 2.5 billion yen (US$31 million) in subsidies in the financial year to March 2010 related to Kansai Electric's four reactors. Many jobs also depend in some way on the plant.

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