* Tokyo hopes to win local govts' approval
* Ohi would be first restart of reactors since March 2011
* Kansai facing most severe power shortages
* Trade min says no deadline for restarts
TOKYO, Feb 7 Japan's trade minister said
on Tuesday he had not set deadlines to resume operations at
nuclear reactors after a media report said the government aimed
to restart two reactors around April, the first since the
Fukushima disaster almost a year ago.
The Yomiuri newspaper, citing government sources, said the
government intended to restart the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at
Kansai Electric Power Co's Ohi plant in Fukui prefecture,
western Japan, before the last active reactor in Japan is due to
shut by the end of April for regular maintenance.
Trade Minister Yukio Edano, who also holds the energy
portfolio, told reporters there was no deadline, reflecting the
public sensitivity of proposed restarts after the Fukushima
Daiichi plant was hit by a tsunami and suffered meltdowns,
spewing radiation and forcing mass evacuations, in March 2011.
"The only standard is whether we can gain a certain level of
understanding from the locals and the public," Edano said.
Approval by local authorities is not required by law but the
government is reluctant to over-ride public safety concerns.
All but one of Osaka-based Kansai's
11 reactors at three nuclear plants are already
shut. Its last active unit is set to enter maintenance from Feb.
The utility, which provides power to an urban-industrial
region including the Osaka metropolis' 18 million people, is
barely meeting demand this winter with the help of customers'
power-saving and assistance from other utilities.
Kansai Electric normally relies on nuclear power for about
50 percent of its power generation, the highest among Japan's
With all but three of the country's 54 nuclear reactors
off-line mostly for safety checks, the government is keen to see
at least some resume operations before a potentially serious
power crunch in the summer, when demand peaks.
TOWNS ON THE FENCE
Japan's nuclear watchdog, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety
Agency (NISA), is reviewing the results of stress tests on a
number of reactors to gauge their resilience to disasters as a
step to restoring public confidence after the Fukushima crisis.
But most Japanese towns hosting nuclear plants said in a
recent Sankei newspaper survey they were undecided on whether
they were willing to restart the reactors even if they passed
the computer-simulated stress tests.
Following the U.N. atomic watchdog's backing of the stress
tests and a visit to the Ohi plant last month, experts will meet
on Wednesday to further discuss the Ohi reactor test results.
The governor of Fukui has said new safety
standards are needed, while the mayor of Ohi told Reuters he
wanted further clarification on such standards as well as the
The government has submitted a bill to parliament requiring
utilities to update reactors with the latest technology if new
risk factors are discovered. The Yomiuri report said officials
hoped the proposed change would help persuade residents.
Edano is set to visit Fukui soon and give the prefectural
governor an update on the government's stance on restarts, while
the government aims to win approval from the prefectural and
town assemblies by March, the newspaper reported. Cabinet
ministers would then give a final go-ahead for the restarts.
The Yomiuri report said the government had judged
that since the two Ohi reactors, each with capacity of 1,180
megawatts, are both around 20 years old, ageing was not a