| TOKYO, April 17
TOKYO, April 17 Japan will within weeks have no
nuclear power for the first time in more than 40 years, after
the trade minister said two reactors idled after the Fukushima
disaster would not be back online before the last one currently
operating is shut down.
Trade Minister Yukio Edano signalled it would take at least
several weeks before the government, keen to avoid a power
crunch, can give a final go-ahead to restarts, meaning Japan is
set on May 6 to mark its first nuclear power-free day since
"If we thoroughly go through the procedure, it would be (on
or) after May 6 even if we could restart them," Edano told a
news conference, adding that whether they can actually be
brought back online is still up to ongoing discussions.
The crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, where a
huge earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 triggered radiation
leaks, has hammered public faith in nuclear power and prevented
the restart of reactors shut down for regular maintenance
checks, with all but one of 54 reactors now offline.
Nuclear power accounted for about 30 percent of Japan's
electricity demand before the Fukushima crisis.
In discussing restarts of the No.3 and No.4 reactors at
Kansai Electric's Ohi nuclear power plant, in western
Japan, the first to clear the government's technical review on
resilience against a severe event, Tokyo has said it wants local
backing even though it is not legally required.
The hosts of the Ohi plant - the governor of Fukui
prefecture and mayor of Ohi town, some 360 km (225 miles)
southwest of Tokyo - told Edano on Saturday that some conditions
should be met before they can make a decision.
These included a safety review by an expert panel formed by
the prefecture and backing from areas neighbouring Fukui that
are becoming increasingly vocal about possible radiation damage
in the event of an accident at any of the 13 reactors in Fukui.
Exactly when Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa and Ohi Mayor
Shinobu Tokioka will make decisions is unclear.
Members of the expert panel will be visiting the Ohi plant
on Wednesday and are likely to meet several more times before
they reach a conclusion, while the Fukui assembly may meet as
early as next week to discuss whether they can back the
restarts, Masao Sato, a member of the assembly, told Reuters.
Ohi town told Reuters in March that it conditionally backed
the restart. Fukui governor Nishikawa told Edano
on Saturday that, while the government has addressed some of
Fukui's concerns, more discussions were needed on safety.
While a looming summertime power crunch is a headache
throughout Japan, Kansai Electric's service region, including
Japan's second biggest metropolitan area of Osaka, is
particularly vulnerable as nuclear power met more than 40
percent of power needs prior to the Fukushima crisis.
Electricity generated by the Ohi No.3 and 4 reactors
accounted for around 1.8 percent of the total amount of
electricity generated in Japan in the business year 2009/10,
data from the trade ministry and the Federation of Electric
Power Companies in Japan showed.
Edano said that the government may have to protectively come
up with plans for rolling blackouts.
"We absolutely cannot let power go out suddenly," he said.
The governors of Shiga and Kyoto prefectures, bordering
Fukui, on Tuesday outlined recommendations for the central
government on restarting reactors, including publicising views
from independent organisations on reactor safety.
The last time Japan saw a nuclear power-free period was the
five days ended on May 4, 1970, when the two reactors then
existing were both shut for maintenance, according to the
Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan.
(Additional reporting by Yoshiyuki Osada in Kyoto; Editing by