The move was welcomed by the influential business lobby, but was deeply unpopular with a vocal anti-nuclear movement.
Regular anti-nuclear protests continue to be held in Tokyo. Organizers claim thousands, and sometimes tens of thousands, of people take part, demanding an end to nuclear generation.
A protest billed as set to attract a million people was due to be held near the prime minister’s residence yesterday, although participation was thought unlikely to be anywhere near that figure.
With a possible eye on the general election expected over the coming months, the government announced in September it would work towards a policy of phasing out nuclear power by 2040.
Critics rounded on the announcement as both populist and “incoherent” because it contained get-out clauses that would mean as-yet unfinished nuclear plants would still come online.
Watanabe said a heavy burden rests on those tasked with ensuring public safety, citing the jail sentences handed out to six seismologists in Italy after a court said their underestimation of the possible effects of an earthquake had contributed to the death toll in the central city of L’Aquila.
“We have to sound the alarm as soon as we find the possibility of active faults,” he said. “The accident in Fukushima had really never been imagined. Scientists must learn from that.”