TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese mayor has called on the government to decommission the nuclear reactor in his village, 110 km northeast of Tokyo, the first local leader to urge scrapping a reactor as Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda tries to rehabilitate the tarnished nuclear sector to help meet the nation's power needs.
The reactor at Tokaimura, where Japan's commercial nuclear power industry was born in the late 1950s, has been shut since a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck northeast Japan on March 11. It entered routine maintenance in May and is not due to restart until August 2012.
Only 10 of Japan's 54 commercial reactors remain operating seven months after the March disaster triggered a crisis at Tokyo Electric Power's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, as safety fears have left local authorities wary of restarting reactors once they go offline for routine maintenance.
But Tokaimura Mayor Tatsuya Murakami was the first local official to call for scrapping a reactor altogether, warning that, if the wave that struck his village on March 11 had been slightly higher, the Tokai Daini reactor could have posed far graver danger than the Fukushima plant, as 1 million people live within a 30-km radius and it is much closer to Tokyo.
A Tokaimura official said Wednesday that Murakami made his plea at a meeting the day before with nuclear disaster minister Goshi Hosono.
"Shouldn't the plant be decommissioned?" he was quoted as telling the meeting.
The 33-year old reactor still has seven years before its operating license expires and Tokyo Electric Power Co had been counting on the 1,100-megawatt facility to help it make up for the 4,700 megawatts of lost power from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Prime Minister Noda has said that offline reactors under maintenance should restart once local authorities confirm they are safe, taking a softer line than his predecessor Naoto Kan, who concluded in March that nuclear power was no longer worth the risk after the world's worst nuclear accident in 25 years.
Japan's nuclear plant operators are preparing to report the results of reactor stress tests to the country's nuclear watchdog, the first step in a lengthy process that would ultimately require local authorities' approval for restarts.
Since the onset of the Fukushima crisis, Murakami has called on Japan to better care for residents who were forced to leave Fukushima prefecture because of the crisis and to stop operating old reactors given lax safety rules and a lack of contingency plans.
Murakami was Tokaimura's mayor in 1999 when a criticality accident at a Tokaimura uranium reprocessing facility resulted in two deaths, the worst nuclear accident in Japan until the Fukushima crisis.
Japan Atomic Power, in which Fukushima plant operator Tokyo Electric Power is a major shareholder, brought its sole reactor at the Tokai Daini plant in Ibaraki prefecture to a state of cold shutdown on March 15.
(Reporting by Risa Maeda; Editing by Edmund Klamann)