Key Japanese Anti-Nuclear Governor Considering Stepping Down

(Bloomberg) -- A Japanese governor who opposes the restart of the world’s biggest nuclear power plant in his prefecture said he may step down, a potential boost to the nation’s pro-nuclear efforts and its largest utility.

Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama, who campaigned on opposition to restarting Tepco’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors, told reporters Tuesday that he’s deliberating resigning over a report due to be published in a weekly magazine. He said the article concerned a woman, declining to elaborate.

“I need a day or two” to decide, Yoneyama said in the briefing, streamed by national broadcaster NHK.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has promoted the use of nuclear power as a way to lower the nation’s reliance on costly and carbon-emitting imported fossil fuels. Although the country imposed stronger safety regulations in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, only five of its 39 operable reactors are online amid public opposition.

Tepco, officially known as Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc., which owns the facility about 200 kilometers (124 miles) north of Tokyo, as well as the wrecked Fukushima plant, rose as much as 4.4 percent on Tuesday after earlier local media reports about the possible resignation. The company traded 1.2 percent higher as of 1:36 p.m. local time.

The governor has been the biggest roadblock for restarting Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors, two of which have been given the all-clear by regulators. Though not required by law, local government approval is typically sought by utilities before they resume.

While Tepco said that it will restart the first unit at the facility as soon as the fiscal year ending March 2020, local opposition has slowed the process. The governor said as recently as January that he won’t support the facility for at least three years while a panel of experts appointed by the prefecture complete evacuation plans and an investigation into the Fukushima disaster.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.