July 8, 2013 / 7:32 AM / 6 years ago

UPDATE 1-Japan nuclear operators file for plant safety checks, but early restarts unlikely

* Govt, power companies want reactors back online
    * But cannot risk compromising independence of new regulator
    * Majority of Japanese public oppose restarts

 (Adds estimate for cost of reactor upgrades)
    TOKYO, July 8 (Reuters) - Japanese nuclear operators on
Monday applied to restart reactors under new rules drawn up
following the Fukushima disaster, but early approval is unlikely
as a more independent regulator strives to show a sceptical
public it is serious about safety.
    The ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan and the
utilities are keen to get reactors running again, with Prime
Minister Shizo Abe singling out reining in soaring fuel costs as
a key part of his economic reform plans.
    But the pro-nuclear LDP must tread carefully to avoid
compromising the independence of the new regulator, which is
battling to build credibility with a public whose faith in
nuclear power was decimated after meltdowns at Tokyo Electric
Power Co's Fukushima Daiichi station.
    The Nuclear Regulation Authority has said it would take at
least six months to review nuclear units, following which the
consent of communities hosting reactors is needed.
    All but two of Japan's 50 reactors have been closed in the
wake of the disaster in March 2011, which forced 160,000 people
from their homes, many of whom are unlikely to be able return
for decades.
    Nuclear power accounted for about a third of Japan's
electricity supply before the Fukushima catastrophe, the worst
nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.
    The disaster, caused by an earthquake and tsunami that
knocked out power and cooling functions at the Fukushima plant,
highlighted lax oversight of the powerful electricity companies.
    Polls show a majority of Japan's population want to end
reliance on atomic power and are opposed to restarts. But the
ruling party argues nuclear energy will cut fuel costs that have
pushed the country into a record trade deficit and will help
return loss-making utilities to profit.
    Hokkaido Electric Power Co, Kansai Electric Power
, Shikoku Electric Power and Kyushu Electric
Power applied to get 10 reactors restarted, the NRA
said.
    
    EQUIPMENT UPGRADES
    Shunichi Tanaka, the chairman of the NRA, said on Thursday
that elevating safety culture to international standards would
"take a long time". 
    The regulator has said that reviewing each plant would
likely take six months and that its review of Japan's nuclear
fleet may take more than three years in total. 
    The difficulty they may face in getting that approval was
highlighted as Tokyo Electric held back from applying to get
units started at its Kashiwazaki Kariwa facility after local
authorities rebuffed the company's plans. 
    Equipment upgrades that reactors need to comply with the new
rules may cost the industry as much as $12 billion, according to
one estimate.
    The NRA will simultaneously review similar model units at
the same plants. About 80 staff at the regulator have been
divided into three groups for the safety checks, with another
group overseeing earthquake resistance.
    Japan is set to be free of nuclear power again in September
for the first time since June 2012 as its only active reactors,
Kansai Electric's Ohi No.3 and No.4 units, are due to enter
planned maintenance shutdowns.
    Industry sources believe that Shikoku Electric Power's Ikata
plant maybe the first facility to come back online due to a lack
of big hurdles, like the presence of active faultlines or
concerns about tsunami.
    Following is a list of reactors that are to be examined for
safety review by the regulator. Capacity is in megawatts. PWR
stands for pressurised water reactor.
    
           Utilities       Plant   Reactors     MW    Type
   Hokkaido Electric      Tomari       No.1    579     PWR
   Hokkaido Electric      Tomari       No.2    579     PWR
   Hokkaido Electric      Tomari       No.3    912     PWR
     Kansai Electric    Takahama       No.3    870     PWR
     Kansai Electric    Takahama       No.4    870     PWR
     Kansai Electric         Ohi       No.3   1180     PWR
     Kansai Electric         Ohi       No.4   1180     PWR
    Shikoku Electric       Ikata       No.3    890     PWR
     Kyushu Electric      Sendai       No.1    890     PWR
     Kyushu Electric      Sendai       No.2    890     PWR
 
 (Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori; Editing by Aaron Sheldrick and
Joseph Radford)
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