• Kyodo

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Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Takeo Hiranuma visited Niigata Prefecture on Wednesday and declared that the No. 4 reactor at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant is safe.

Hiranuma visited the prefectural assembly and officially deemed the reactor safe in a bid to win the support of local governments and residents to restart it.

“The (central) government has confirmed that there are no safety problems in resuming operations,” he said.

Hiranuma said METI will take full responsibility for the administration of nuclear energy policy, and that authorities are confident that various legal amendments made in recent months will be effective.

In light of Hiranuma’s declaration, Niigata Gov. Ikuo Hirayama, Kashiwazaki Mayor Masazumi Saikawa and Kariwa Mayor Hiroo Shinada are now expected to discuss whether to allow the reactor to be restarted.

Hirayama is expected to announce his decision after the prefectural assembly adjourns Friday, local government sources said.

Saikawa and Shinada, the mayors of the municipalities hosting the Tokyo Electric Power Co. nuclear plant, have already shown a positive stance on restarting the reactor.

The No. 4 reactor was shut down for safety checks and repairs in January. Tepco replaced cracked pipe segments with new pipes, according to officials at Japan’s largest utility.

Hiranuma made a similar visit to the prefecture June 6 to seek support from local governments and residents to restart the halted reactor.

After revelations last August that Tepco had falsified safety reports to cover up reactor faults, the utility shut down in April all 17 of its reactors — seven in Niigata Prefecture and 10 in Fukushima Prefecture — for safety checks and repairs.

Of the 17 reactors, the No. 6 at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant was restarted in May and the No. 7 in June. The rest remain offline.

Tepco could legally restart the No. 4 reactor upon approval from Japan’s nuclear regulator without local consent. But the central government hopes to win local backing to avoid angering residents.

On July 2, Tepco asked the local governments to consent to the restart of the No. 4 reactor, and the governor said Hiranuma’s visit would be one of the conditions for him to give the green light.

The utility and METI are struggling to restart the reactors to avoid possible power shortages in the Tokyo metropolitan area during the peak summer power demand.