TOKYO, July 5 (UPI) -- The mayor of a small town in southwestern Japan approved the restart of two suspended nuclear reactors, the first such decision since the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
As the first local official to decide on the fate of reactors in his area, the decision of Genkai Mayor Hideo Kishimoto, in Saga Prefecture, is seen as setting a possible precedent for other areas of the country.
In addition to the required approval from the central government, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan's administration is also requesting local officials to approve any nuclear reactor restarts, post Fukushima.
Of Japan's 54 reactors, 35 are offline, most of them to fulfill routine maintenance requirements, rather than because of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, The New York Times reports.
Two of the Genkai plant's four reactors, the No. 2 and No. 3 units, had been shut down since last winter for regular maintenance, their restart postponed amid the country's nuclear crisis.
"We must strongly support the Japanese economy by helping to ensure a stable supply of electricity to western Japan," Kishimoto said of his decision to restart Genkai's reactors, Japanese media reported.
Saga Gov. Yasushi Furukawa is expected to make a final decision on the Genkai reactors in mid-July.
Pointing out that nuclear power-related subsidies and property tax payments from the nuclear plant account for 60 percent of Genkai's fiscal 2011 budget, an editorial Tuesday in The Japan Times argues that Kishimoto had no alternative but to agree to a restart.
While nuclear power generation may be necessary to overcome this summer's power shortage, the editorial said, the government "must present a long-term, concrete plan to phase out nuclear power generation."
A poll by Mainichi Shimbun newspaper released Monday indicates that 51 percent of respondents were opposed to restarting nuclear reactors that have been stopped for inspections. Furthermore, 60 percent said they would accept an increase in electricity prices to support the use of more renewable energy, such as solar and wind power.
Of those polled, 17 percent said nuclear plants should be done away with altogether, a figure 5 percentage points higher than results from the same poll conducted in May.
Last month the newspaper said that governors of 10 prefectures in which nuclear plants are located had said that they weren't in favor of restarting their reactors.
Japan had aimed to build at least 14 new reactors by 2030, increasing the country's share of nuclear power electricity generation to about 50 percent from a share of nearly 30 percent prior to the earthquake.