TOKYO - Japanese Economics Minister Seiji Maehara said on Friday nuclear reactors can be restarted if a new regulator deems them safe, throwing into confusion how the dozens of units idle since the Fukushima disaster could be used in future energy plans.

Maehara, whose ministry had led debate in the cabinet on energy policy, said a new law empowered the regulator to endorse bringing reactors back on line. He said the idle reactors could be a key source of power generation for now, a notion certain to anger Japan's growing ranks of opponents of nuclear power.

"If safety is approved, such reactors would be considered as an important power source," Maehara, who also oversees national strategy, told a news conference.

The new nuclear watchdog, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), said this week it does not hold ultimate responsibility to authorize reactor restarts and is concerned solely with safety.

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