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Industry minister Takeo Hiranuma said Tuesday he will visit Niigata Prefecture to apologize to residents there for the ministry’s lax handling of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s attempts to cover up defects at its nuclear reactors there.

His visit on Friday, the first since the scandal broke in August, is seen as an attempt to prepare for the early restart of the reactors before power demand rises this summer.

“I want to offer my apology as the head of the government office in charge of energy policy, for the trouble local people have gone through,” Hiranuma, minister for economy, trade and industry, told a news conference.

The coverup involves a raft of falsified reports on cracks or signs of cracks in devices in the core structure of reactors at Tepco’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata and the No. 1 and No. 2 Fukushima atomic plants in Fukushima Prefecture. Tepco shut down all 17 of its reactors for safety checks after the coverup was exposed.

Hiranuma also said he wants to convey his determination to ensure the safety of the facilities and gain the acceptance of local citizens.

But he stressed that the visit is part of the ministry’s efforts to gain the acceptance of local citizens and does not indicate the halted reactors will immediately go back on line.

Hiranuma said he plans to visit Kashiwazaki and the village of Kariwa on Friday. He is expected to hold talks with Niigata Gov. Ikuo Hirayama, Kashiwazaki Mayor Masazumi Saikawa and Hiroo Shinada, village mayor of Kariwa.

Hiranuma also said he will not hesitate to visit Fukushima Prefecture, where Tepco also has nuclear reactors, when the conditions are set. Local authorities there have been demanding that the minister visit the prefecture.

The No. 6 reactor at Tepco’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant resumed operations in May.

But the 16 remaining reactors in the two prefectures remain shut down.

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