TOKYO, July 14 A nuclear plant in southern Japan
is to clear an initial safety hurdle on Wednesday, a key step in
what is likely to be the gradual restart of an industry idled by
the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
As Japan swelters through its first summer without any
nuclear power in 40 years, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's
government is keen to start bringing the nation's 48 reactors
back online as a prolonged shutdown forces Japan to rely on
expensive fossil fuel imports for power.
All of Japan's nuclear reactors have been shut for safety
overhauls since the 2011 disaster when a nuclear power plant at
Fukushima, on the coast north of Tokyo, was hit by an earthquake
and tsunami. It was the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl
The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) will approve the
upgraded design and safety features of Kyushu Electric Co's
Sendai plant at a Wednesday meeting, the regulator said
After this initial approval, the regulator will seek public
comment for a month. Further on-site operational checks will be
required, followed by the approval of local communities.
Experts largely expect the two-reactor plant, 980 km (600
miles) southwest of Tokyo near the southern tip of Japan's main
islands, to come online by the end of the year. The plant was
fast-tracked for safety approval by the NRA in March.
The likely Sendai restart will be a key boost to the nuclear
industry and to Abe, who - despite widespread public opposition
to nuclear power - calls for the restart of reactors deemed safe
by regulators. Abe's government reversed the previous
administration's plan to eventually mothball all units.
The NRA, an independent nuclear regulator set up after the
Fukushima disaster, has been vetting restart applications from
regional electric utilities for more than a year. Nine companies
have applied to restart 19 reactors.
The blackout of nuclear plants, which supplied about
one-third of Japan's electricity before Fukushima, has pushed
several utilities to post three straight years of losses and has
contributed to a record string of 23 months of trade deficits.
Kyushu Electric was forced to seek a 100 billion yen ($985
million) bailout from the state-backed Development Bank of Japan
this year to shore up its battered finances.
Even after the Sendai plant's restart, at most about
two-thirds of Japan's 48 reactors will eventually pass the
regulator's stringent safety checks and clear the other hurdles
needed to restart, a Reuters analysis in April showed.
(Reporting by Mari Saito; Editing by William Mallard and Robert