Japan intends to restart four additional nuclear reactors in time for the winter, said Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda on Friday, a week after the pro-nuclear governing party scored a landslide victory in upper house elections.
“We would like to ensure the operation of a maximum of nine reactors, up from the current five operating now, by revising the construction and inspection periods for some of the nuclear power plants,” Hagiuda said during a press conference.
Many of Japan’s nuclear reactors are still shut down after a large tsunami created a catastrophe at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011, but the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has been eyeing a return to nuclear power as a reliable source of energy for resource-scarce Japan.
Following the Fukushima tragedy, public opinion was widely hostile to nuclear restarts, but the tide has turned as fuel costs have risen and unseasonable weather has prompted demands for energy conservation.
Talk of restarting more reactors was welcomed by energy businesses, with Federation of Electric Power Companies President Kazuhiro Ikebe calling it “words of encouragement.”
Still, a nuclear restart requires a lengthy licensing procedure controlled by authorities, as well as local community consent.
Rising tensions with Russia have also heightened Japan’s anxiety.
A decision signed by President Vladimir Putin in late June seizing control of the gas and oil project Sakhalin-2 threatens to cut Japan off from a critical source of gas supply.
Takehiro Honjo, head of the Gas Association, said on Friday that there are no urgent worries about gas supply.
However, in the midst of the uncertainties, Ikebe asked “the government act to protect our interests in Sakhalin-2.”
“We must prepare to take all possible steps in the event LNG supply from Russia is halted,” Ikebe added.
Sakhalin-2 provides 9% of Japan’s liquefied natural gas.