Japan moved closer to restarting nuclear reactors for the first time since last year's earthquake and tsunami led to a nationwide shutdown, after a mayor gave his support on Thursday to bringing two of them back online.
Work to restart two reactors in the western town of Ohi, which are the first ready to resume generating power, could begin as soon as this weekend now that the mayor signed off on the plan. Once the work begins, it takes about three weeks to get a reactor operating at full capacity.
All 50 of Japan's workable reactors are offline because of safety concerns or for maintenance since the March 11, 2011, disaster caused radiation leaks at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.
Public opposition to nuclear power remains high, even though the government has been pressing for the restart of reactors because it says nuclear energy is crucial to Japan's economy. Power companies have warned of looming shortages, as demand reaches its summer peak.
The governor of Fukui, the state in which Ohi is located, now has to meet with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to inform him that the local governments are willing to accept the restart plan. The prime minister has to give final approval, which Japanese media reports said will likely happen on Saturday.
Local consent is not legally required for restarting the reactors, but the government wants the support because of the sensitivity of the issue. The public has shown great concern that government failures, such as not sharing radiation leak data, worsened the crisis at Fukushima and could recur.
Last year's massive earthquake and tsunami caused explosions and meltdowns at the Fukushima plant. Tens of thousands of residents were evacuated because of the radiation leaks. Although the plant's operator says it has restored some stability, it could take years to decontaminate the area and decades to safely close down Fukushima's reactors.
Before last year's crisis, Japan depended on nuclear for about one-third of its electricity and was planning to expand that further. The government is now carrying out a sweeping review of that plan.