(Adds comments, detail)
By Risa Maeda
TOKYO, Sept 5 Japanese utilities are due to
submit the results of first-stage stress tests for at least one
of their reactors to the nuclear watchdog by the end of this
month, the new trade minister said on Monday.
Tokyo ordered Japan's power utilities to carry out
simulations to test how well prepared their reactors were to
withstand the impact of extreme events such as a strong
earthquake or a tsunami.
Yoshio Hachiro also told reporters that he shared Prime
Minister Yoshihiko Noda's view that reactors idled after regular
maintenance is over should get approval from local authorities
and return online before next April.
The March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which crippled Tokyo
Electric Power Co's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power
plant and resulted in a huge radiation leak, heightened public
concerns about safety and kept any reactors from restarting.
Nuclear power provided only 15 percent of Japan's
electricity in July, down from around 30 percent before the
world's worst radiation crisis in 25 years.
Japan's government is asking the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA) to assess the results of the stress tests, in
addition to assessments by nuclear regulators here, to help
restore public confidence in existing reactors, Hachiro said.
The trade ministry is requesting Tokyo Electric to submit
more data to prove the nuclear operator's view that it was not a
magnitude 9 earthquake but the tsunami which caused the
blackout, stopped cooling systems and triggered the radiation
leak at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, he added.
"We'd like such data to help local people to judge the
safety of reactors they're concerned about," Hachiro said.
Communities around reactors vulnerable to a strong
earthquake have been worried that the government's immediate
measures against tsunamis would not be enough.
ENERGY POLICY, TRADE TALKS
Hachiro said it is up a new panel of experts appointed by
the trade minister as well as a government debate led by the
strategy minister as how to ensure Japan has stable energy
supply in the mid- to long-term while weaning itself from the
reliance on nuclear.
It is also up to these parties to decide whether to allow
utilities to continue construction of reactors halted since the
March disaster. Both parties are expected to compile an interim
report on post-Fukushima energy policy by the end of the year
and come to conclusion next year, he said.
"The time is not ripe yet to make a conclusion and shape a
policy," said Hachiro, a veteran lawmaker who has a stronger
insight in agriculture and trade issues than energy.
He declined to comment on his position over the U.S.-led
free trade pact called the Trans-Pacific Partnership to be
discussed at APEC meeting in November, saying that was
But Hachiro, who had worked at a farm cooperative, said he
learned from the history of liberalising Japan's farm markets
that Japan should insist its own interests, although farm
produce cannot be excluded from trade talks.
Japan's industry groups have been calling for speedy talks
on free trade agreements with major trading partners to better
compete against newly emerging economies.
(Reporting by Risa Maeda; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)