The two reactors at the Ohi nuclear plant are the first two ready to resume generating power, but the public has shown great concern that government failures worsened last year's crisis and may recur.
Nuclear energy is crucial for Japanese society, Noda said in a news conference broadcast live. The government wants the reactors to be operational ahead of a summertime energy crunch.
"We should restart the Ohi No. 3 and No. 4 reactors in order to protect the people's livelihoods," Noda said. "The Japanese society cannot survive if we stop all nuclear reactors or keep them halted."
Noda said a 15 percent power deficit is expected in the western region, a level he called "severe." Without nuclear energy, utilities would have to rely more heavily on expensive fossil fuel, which would increase electricity bills and financial strain on small businesses.
He said the public opinion was polarized but he has to make a decision because "I cannot put people's safety and livelihood at stake by not restarting the reactors."
Local consent is not legally required for restarting the reactors, though government ministers have promised to gain understanding from the prefecture. Noda said he understood the mixed feelings many people had about a start-up. He promised to publish a long-term energy policy that aims to reduce nuclear dependency and promote renewable energy around August - a delay from an earlier target of June.
Noda's speech Friday possibly removes the last obstacle before a resumption of the Ohi reactors. The Fukui governor made Noda's public appeal conditional to his consent for the start-up. With the governor's consent, Noda is expected to make a final go ahead as early as next week, so the restart could take place within days.
Noda said the peak of energy demand for the summer was approaching, requiring a quick decision.
He said major cities around the Ohi plant should thank local residents for their burden of supplying electricity to towns around the west, despite the safety concerns, apparently seeking to gain their understanding for the resumption.
Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa took Noda's comment "seriously," indicating an approval, a local newspaper Fukui Shimbun reported.