'Very difficult' to do without nuclear energy: Japanese minister

Japan's newly-appointed Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi has said it would be "very difficult" for Japan to do without nuclear energy, as the country prepares to restart its atomic reactors, media reported Monday.

Tokyo: Japan's newly-appointed Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi has said it would be "very difficult" for Japan to do without nuclear energy, as the country prepares to restart its atomic reactors, media reported Monday.

"It is important for Japan, a nation with scarce (energy) resources, to keep a good energy balance. It would be difficult to pick an option with no nuclear reactors when we think about our energy policy in the long run," Obuchi told public broadcaster NHK Sunday.

Although this was the first public statement by the new minister defending the use of nuclear energy, Obuchi had already laid the ground with gestures such as her visit to the troubled Fukushima nuclear power plant shortly after her appointment at the beginning of the month.

"Some people say we are managing to keep our life going without nuclear reactors, but we are using old thermal power plants at full strength to generate power and we are not in the situation to feel assured," Obuchi said.

The minister also expressed concern regarding the rising cost of electricity due to the increase in fossil fuel prices that has also had a negative impact on the country's balance of payments.

The nuclear disaster of 2011 jeopardized the energy model of the Asian country, which depended at the time on atomic plants for 30 percent of its needs, leading to an increase in fossil fuel imports, a soaring trade deficit and higher electricity prices.

Obuchi's appointment took place amid a heated public debate regarding the reactivation of some of the 48 nuclear plants that have remained shut since the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant caused by the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority announced Sep 10 that two reactors at the Sendai nuclear plant in the southwest had passed new safety checks which could allow their reactivation in the next few months.

These new safety regulations, introduced after the 2011 crisis, are "the world's strictest safety guidelines," said Obuchi, adding that "the government policy is to restart a nuclear plant that has passed these guidelines".

Presently, a total of 17 reactors in 10 nuclear plants around the country are being inspected to determine if they meet these new, more stringent nuclear safety requirements, especially with regard to the ability to withstand disasters such as the tsunami of 2011.

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