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UPDATE 1-Japan's Maehara: reactors can restart if new watchdog gives OK

Thursday, 4 Oct 2012 | 11:10 PM ET

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TOKYO, Oct 5 (Reuters) - Japan's Economics Minister Seiji Maehara, who also oversees national strategy, said on Friday nuclear reactors can restart if a new regulator approves their safety.

Maehara's comments are likely to add to the confusion over who is responsible for restarting reactors in Japan, where concerns over atomic safety after the Fukushima disaster last year have kept all but two of 50 reactors idled.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and three other key ministers had decided on the restart of the two reactors.

"If safety is approved, such reactors would be considered as an important power source. We should rely on nuclear as an energy option for the time being," Maehara said at a news conference.

Japan's new nuclear watchdog, the Nuclear Regulation Authority, said this week it does not hold ultimate responsibility to authorise reactor restarts and is only concerned with safety.

Noda's cabinet last month agreed on a new energy policy that aims to end the country's reliance on nuclear power but removed any reference to a target date to do so by the 2030s, which had been included in an earlier version of the plan.

(Reporting by Risa Maeda; editing by Miral Fahmy)

((risa.maeda@thomsonreuters.com)(81-3-6441-1856)(Reuters

Messaging: risa.maeda.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

Keywords: ENERGY JAPAN/