TOKYO — Japan will begin restarting its idled nuclear plants once new safety guidelines are in place later this year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday, moving to ensure a stable energy supply despite public safety concerns after the Fukushima disaster.
In a speech to Parliament, Abe pledged to restart nuclear plants that pass the tougher guidelines, which are expected to be adopted by an independent watchdog agency, the Nuclear Regulation Authority, as early as July. But he did not specify when any of the reactors might resume operation. News reports have said it might take months or even years to make expensive upgrades needed to meet the new safety standards.
All of Japan’s 50 operable nuclear reactors were shut down after the March 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which spewed radiation across northern Japan after a huge earthquake and tsunami knocked out vital cooling systems. Two were later restarted as an emergency measure to avert power shortages.
Responding to public safety concerns, leaders from the previous Democratic Party government had vowed to slowly phase out nuclear power by the 2030s in favor of cleaner alternatives like solar and wind power. But Abe, who took power after his Liberal Democratic Party won national elections in December, has vowed to shelve the planned phaseout, saying Japan needs stable and cheap electricity from nuclear power to compete economically.