• Compiled From Bloomberg, Kyodo

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Tokyo Electric Power Co. has won the backing of Niigata Prefecture’s safety committee for improvements to a reactor at the utility’s quake-halted Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear station, bringing Tepco closer to restarting the world’s largest atomic plant.

The panel told Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida Tuesday that it agreed with the central government’s verdict that the No. 7 reactor at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa station is safe, Takeshi Kumakura of Niigata’s nuclear safety division said Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, Kashiwazaki Mayor Hiroshi Aida responded positively to restarting the reactor.

“We think the safety of the reactor has been confirmed. We would like to hold a meeting of three parties toward the resumption of the operation,” he told a news conference.

Tepco needs approval from the governor and the heads of the city of Kashiwazaki and the village of Kariwa before restarting the reactor, and they are expected to meet in the near future to formally OK the reactor restart.

The 1,356 megawatt No. 7 unit is the first of seven to have undergone structural strengthening work after the deadly July 2007 temblor shook the plant more than was assumed possible in its design, forcing its total shutdown.

“We are still unclear as to when the governments can give the final endorsements to Tepco,” Kumakura said. “It hinges on public understanding in Niigata.”

The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, which accounts for about 10 percent of Tepco’s total capacity, was closed after the 6.8 magnitude tremor. The shutdown forced the utility to buy more oil, coal and natural gas at peak prices to fuel thermal plants, leading it to post a loss for the first time in 28 years for the year that ended in March 2008.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on Feb. 13 approved the restart of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa’s No. 7 reactor, saying it was “properly” repaired and would remain safe during an earthquake.

Japan, which has more than 50 nuclear reactors, wants to increase the share of atomic energy in electricity generation to 40 percent by 2030 from about 30 percent, which would be the current rate had Tepco not had to idle the Niigata plant. By the end of 2017, 13 more reactors are scheduled to be built, according to the Federation of Power Companies.

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