TOKYO, June 11 (UPI) -- Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda called for the restart of two of the country's nuclear reactors in what would mark the first restart of idled reactors since last year's Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.
The last of Japan's active reactors was shut down last month, leaving the country without a working nuclear plant for the first time in four decades.
Noda, in a televised speech Friday, said the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, western Japan should be restarted "to protect the livelihoods of the Japanese people."
Noda's remarks come amid sharp divisions among even his ruling Democratic Party on the issue of restarting the country's reactors. A recent Pew Research Center survey indicates 70 percent of Japanese asked say the country should reduce its reliance on nuclear energy.
"To protect people's lives -- this is my one and only criteria in judging the issue that has divided the nation into two," Noda said. "Livelihoods should never be threatened by failing to restart nuclear reactors."
Kyodo news service reported Sunday that a local nuclear safety commission has endorsed a report by Fukui prefecture officials stating that necessary safety measures for the two Oi reactors have been put in place, thus effectively approving their restart.
The commission's report states that "the safety of the (Oi) power station has been enhanced, and even if an earthquake and tsunami … occurs, necessary measures for ensuring safety have been secured."
Also, under the proposed plan to restart the Oi reactors, monitoring measures include having a senior vice minister of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, stationed at the Oi plant, The Yomiuri Shimbun reports.
But some experts question Japan's readiness to restart its nuclear program.
"Fully upgrading the nuclear plants that have been taken offline to new domestic and international standards will take time, Sean Toczko, an expert from Japan's Marine Science and Technology Institute was quoted as saying by Chinese state news agency Xinhua.
"So it's no wonder people are nervous about these reactors being fired up again so soon after such a huge nuclear disaster."
"It could take until 2015 or longer until technologies to lessen radiation leaks in the event of an accident are in place, next-generation anti-tsunami defenses are operational and on-site anti-radiation crisis centers are workable. From this point of view, the Oi plant is far from ready to handle a Fukushima-type crisis," Toczko said.
Regarding the ideal amount of nuclear power for the country, Noda said he would announce the government's recommended proportion of power resources in August or later, after a national debate on the issue.