* Ten applications to restart reactors under new rules
* Getting units restarted key to cutting fossil fuel import
* Fukushima operator reports high caesium levels close to
* Readings show contaminated water may be spreading to sea
By Kentaro Hamada and Antoni Slodkowski
TOKYO, July 9 Japan may restart several reactors
shut down by the Fukushima nuclear crisis in about a year, a
senior regulator said in an interview on Tuesday, a day after
new safety rules went into effect designed to avoid a repeart of
At the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant north of Tokyo, the
site of the world's worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl in
1986, the situation took a turn for the worse as radiation
levels in groundwater soared, suggesting highly toxic materials
from the plant are now close to the Pacific Ocean.
But Japan is forging ahead with attempts to restart idled
reactors in the face of a sceptical public, after Fukushima
highlighted weak oversight of the industry.
That is meant to change with the new rules.
Getting units restarted is a key government goal to reduce
the import bill for fossil fuel to run conventional stations.
Only two of Japan's 50 reactors are connected to the grid and
operators applied to restart 10 on Monday.
"Some units are projected (to restart) one year from now,
though I don't know how many," Kenzo Oshima, a commissioner of
Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority, told Reuters. "It is hard
to imagine that all the applications would be rejected, though
we don't know what the outcome will be at the moment."
He did not identify the reactors that are likely to restart.
Tokyo Electric Power Co, the operator of the
Fukushima station, hit by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami,
said that an observation well between the damaged reactor No. 2
and the sea showed levels of radioactive caesium-134 were 90
times higher on Monday than they had been the previous Friday.
Tokyo Electric, also known as Tepco, said it detected
caesium-134 at 9,000 becquerels per litre, 150 times above
Japan's safety standard. A becquerel is a measure of the release
of radioactive energy.
The reading for caesium-137, with a half life of 30 years,
was some 85 times higher than it had been three days earlier.
The latest findings, 25 metres (yards) from the sea, come a
month after Tepco detected radioactive caesium in groundwater
flowing into its wrecked plant far from the sea on elevated
ground. The level of caesium found in June was much lower than
the amount announced on Tuesday.
The spike, combined with recent discoveries of high levels
of radioactive elements like tritium and strontium, suggest that
contaminated water is spreading toward the sea side of the
plant from the reactors sitting on higher ground.
"We don't know what is the reason behind the spike," Tepco
spokeswoman Mayumi Yoshida told Reuters. "We're still looking to
determine the causes behind it."
The operator has been flushing water over the three reactors
to keep them cool for more than two years, but contaminated
water has been building up at the rate of an an Olympic-size
swimming pool per week.
In April, Tepco warned it may run out of space to store the
water and asked for approval to channel what it has described
groundwater with low levels of radiation around the plant and to
the sea through a "bypass". Local fishermen oppose the proposal.
Tepco also announced that the plant's manager at the height
of the crisis, when three reactors underwent meltdowns, died on
Tuesday of oesophageal cancer - unrelated to his duties.
Masao Yoshida was widely credited with preventing the
situation from spiralling out of control when he ignored an
order from Tepco executives to stop pouring seawater over the
reactors to keep them from overheating further.
He was one of a skeleton group of staff, known as the
Fukushima 50, who remained at the plant at the height of the
crisis, but he rarely spoke publicly about his experiences.
(Additional reporting by Osamu Tsukimori; Editing by Aaron
Sheldrick and Ron Popeski)