* Two reactors in southwestern Japan to undergo final checks
* No timing given for a potential restart of reactors
* Majority of Japanese oppose restart of nuclear
(Adds comment from government official)
By Mari Saito and Kentaro Hamada
TOKYO, March 13 Japan put two reactors on a
shortlist for a final round of safety checks on Thursday, moving
a step closer to a revival of the country's nuclear industry,
three years after the Fukushima disaster led to the shutdown of
No timing for a potential restart was decided and the next
stage of checks incorporates a period of public hearings, which
may be a fraught process given widespread scepticism nationally
about a return to nuclear power.
Two days after the third anniversary of the meltdowns at the
Fukushima nuclear station, Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority
(NRA) placed two reactors operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co
on a list for priority screening at a meeting of
officials reviewing restart applications.
Kyushu Electric's Sendai reactors are located about 980 kms
(600 miles) southwest of Tokyo. The utility is one of the most
reliant of Japan's regional electricity monopolies on nuclear
power, which supplied about a third of Japan's electricity
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a strong supporter of nuclear
power, finalised a mid-term energy plan last month, which
embraces nuclear power and calls for the restart of reactors
deemed safe by regulators, overturning the previous
administration's plan to eventually mothball all units.
"The NRA checks if standards are met and if it concludes
they have been, the government would like to restart
(reactors)," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said after
the decision. "We want the NRA to properly inspect the plants."
Tokyo Electric Power Co's Fukushima Daiichi station
had three reactor meltdowns after a devastating earthquake and
tsunami on March 11, 2011, sending a massive radioactive plume
into the air and ocean.
In the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986,
thousands were forced to flee their homes and much of the area
around the Fukushima plant, about 220 kms north of Tokyo,
remains a no-go zone due to high levels of radiation.
Cleaning up Fukushima is expected to take decades and cost
at least 11 trillion yen ($108 billion).
The disaster led to the eventual shutdown of all reactors,
forcing utilities to spend billions of dollars on expensive
fossil fuels to generate electricity. Japan has 48 operable
LOCAL SUPPORT, NATIONAL OPPOSITION
Regulators will now draft an official approval document for
the shutdown Sendai reactors, with input from local communities,
which may take as long as four weeks. Further inspections and
maintenance work will be required before restarting a plant.
Once the regulator signs off on safety the assent of local
authorities to turn on the reactors will be sought.
While there is support for a restart among communities close
to Sendai, which rely on the station for jobs and subsidies,
there is widespread opposition further afield.
Restarting the Sendai reactors faces relatively little
opposition compared to other areas, a recent survey by Asahi of
local township leaders across the nation showed.
The mayor of Satsuma Sendai City said on Thursday a big
hurdle had been cleared and asked the Kyushu utility to do all
it can to ensure safety at the plant, Jiji news reported.
A poll released on Monday by national broadcaster NHK
Television showed anti-nuclear sentiment nationwide is up 10
percentage points from two years ago.
Of those surveyed 76 percent were either opposed to nuclear
power or wanted Japan to curtail its reliance on the energy
source, NHK said. Other polls have shown similar results.
A small group of anti-nuclear protesters stood in the rain
outside the regulators' office on Thursday, while a handful
raised their voice in protest inside when NRA Chairman Shunichi
Tanaka gave the greenlight for screenings the Sendai reactors.
($1 = 102.72 Japanese Yen)
(Additional reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Writing by Aaron
Sheldrick; Editing by Michael Perry)