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Japanese PM apologizes for reactor restart flip-flop

TOKYO (Xinhua) – Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Friday apologized for the disarray due to the delay of restarting nuclear power plants in Saga prefecture by the sudden issuance of additional stress tests.

The government had initially told local officials in Saga prefecture that the two reactors, idled in the wake of the March 11 disasters for safer checks, at the Genkai power plant located in Saga prefecture could be restarted, but it retracted the order days later, which incensed Hideo Kishimoto, mayor of the prefecture.

"My instruction was inadequate and came too late, and I feel responsible for this," Kan said during ministerial talks held Friday.

The prime minister has received harsh criticism from within the ruling Cabinet and from within his own ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) lawmakers over the sudden U-turn.

Secretary General Katsuya Okada said that the restarting of the reactors and the call for additional stress tests made by the government Wednesday were two separate issues and the confusion caused to the public and local municipalities was regrettable.

"I'm feeling as if my head is about to explode," Sago Mayor Kishimoto said regarding the government's flip-flopping over the restarting of Genkai's two reactors -- the first scheduled to be restarted since the nuclear disaster at the No. 1 power plant in Fukushima prefecture, sparked by the March 11 quake and ensuing tsunami.

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"The government decided to conduct the stress tests two days after I told Kyushu Electric Power that our town would approve the restart. It means that we are not trusted," said Kishimoto.

"I feel my judgment was futile," the mayor said.

His sentiments were echoed by Saga Governor Yasushi Furukawa who said the government's decision to introduce the stress tests at this point was perplexing.

The planned stress tests are designed to measure the extent to which nuclear reactors can withstand sizable earthquakes and tsunamis and to identify potential weak points, the government's nuclear safety agency said on Wednesday.

In addition, the agency has said it may take as long as several months to conclude the tests, if similar tests started in June in Europe are to be taken as a procedural benchmark.

Currently only 19 of Japan's 54 reactors are operable. Due to the nuclear disaster sparked by the twin disasters in March, all reactors were idled then.

Further delays to restarting the reactors could mean electricity demand during peak times during summer and beyond outstrips supply and the potential for rolling blackouts has not been ruled out as nuclear energy accounts for 30 percent of the nation's total power supply.

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