• Kyodo

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Industry minister Takeo Hiranuma visited Niigata Prefecture on Friday to apologize for the mishandling of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s coverup of defects at its nuclear reactors.

Hiranuma apologized to the mayor and city assembly members in Kashiwazaki, the site of Tepco’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant. Part of the facility also lies in the village of Kariwa. He was also expected to apologize to residents of the two municipalities later in the day.

The apologies, the first since the scandal broke last August, are apparently designed to smooth the way for operations to resume at most of the reactors before demand for electricity reaches its summertime peak.

Before leaving for Niigata, Hiranuma told reporters in Tokyo, “I want to apologize to the people and demonstrate my (own) determination to ensure the safety (of nuclear facilities).”

Hiranuma said his visit was not simply a move to get the reactors going again, and his ministry will step up energy-saving campaigns to avoid summer power shortages.

He also dismissed suggestions that power shortages will be avoided by the resumption of operations at more reactors, saying, “There are optimistic media reports, but I’m handling the issue with a sense of crisis.”

Ahead of Hiranuma’s visit, Yoshihiko Sasaki, director general of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, told the village assembly in Kariwa that the No. 7 reactor at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant is now safe.

Tepco shut down all of its nuclear reactors — seven in Niigata Prefecture and 10 in Fukushima Prefecture — for new checks after the safety violations were revealed.

The No. 6 reactor at the Niigata plant went back online in May, but the remaining 16 are still out of commission.

The Fukushima Prefectural Assembly is expected to hold a meeting Monday to discuss the No. 6 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station. The government has already said the reactor is safe and can resume operations.

Tepco predicts the Kanto region could run short of 7.5 megawatts of electricity this summer.

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