Two more Japan nuclear reactors get safety clearance for restart

A June 27, 2013, photo shows Kansai Electric Power's Takahama nuclear plant in Fukui prefecture, western Japan. -- PHOTO: AFP 
A June 27, 2013, photo shows Kansai Electric Power's Takahama nuclear plant in Fukui prefecture, western Japan. -- PHOTO: AFP 

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's atomic regulator on Thursday cleared a second set of reactors for restart, another step towards returning the country to nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster of 2011 led to the shutdown of all units.

Two reactors at the Takahama nuclear station operated by Kansai Electric Power, Japan's most nuclear-reliant utility before Fukushima, passed the basic standards for operation, Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) commissioners said at a meeting.

They must still get approval from the NRA on design upgrades and go through operational checks, as well as get the greenlight from the local authorities to restart. Kansai Electric is aiming to start the reactors by November, according to a plan submitted to the government to raise electricity prices, a spokesman said on Thursday.

The approval is good news for Kansai Electric, which in December sought permission to raise electricity rates by over 10 per cent, and expects to post a fourth consecutive year of losses in the year through March 31.

All 48 of Japan's reactors were gradually taken offline by September 2013 after the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in north-east Japan following an earthquake and tsunami, which set off the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

The shutdown has forced nuclear operators to turn to more expensive fossil fuels to run power stations, driving most of them into a sustained period of losses.

Japan's public remains opposed to atomic power, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government has been pushing to restart nuclear reactors that meet strict rules set after the Fukushima disaster.

The government is aiming to restart reactors operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co, the first to be approved under the new rules, by around June following a lengthy and politically sensitive approval process, sources familiar with the plans have said.