• Kyodo

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Two idled nuclear reactors owned by Kansai Electric Power Co. on Wednesday cleared an initial safety hurdle necessary for them to be restarted, possibly next year, bolstering the Abe government’s plan to revive atomic power following the 2011 Fukushima crisis.

Reactors 3 and 4 at the Takahama plant, located on the Sea of Japan coast in Fukui Prefecture, follow two units operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co. in passing the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s tighter safety requirements, which were introduced after the triple meltdown at Tepco’s Fukushima No. 1 plant in 2011.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, which won 290 seats in Sunday’s Lower House election, is set to accelerate efforts to revive nuclear plants that have remained idled amid safety concerns following the March 2011 triple disaster, although the majority of Japanese are said to be opposed to the resumption.

On Wednesday, the NRA’s decision-making panel approved Kansai Electric’s enhanced safety measures against potential earthquake and tsunami hazards that could affect the Takahama facility. The nuclear regulator will give formal safety clearance to the utility following a month-long public consultation period.

Among Japan’s 48 commercial reactors, all of which currently remain offline, only four, including the Takahama units, have met the more rigorous safety requirements. Passing the NRA’s safety screening is the initial requirement for resumption, with no specific date set for any restarts.

The Takahama units will not go back online before spring, as Kansai Electric still needs to obtain local approval and undergo more procedures including on-site operational checks.

Power companies are desperate to bring their idled nuclear reactors back online, particularly as the yen’s value falls, pushing up the cost of fossil fuels for thermal power generation, which has covered the shortfall in the absence of atomic power.

Kansai Electric, which serves an area centered on Osaka, may post its fourth straight group net loss in the business year through next March. In addition to the Takahama reactors, it also hopes to restart two more units at its Oi complex in Fukui Prefecture.

But the process may not go as smoothly as the utility hopes, partly because neighboring prefectures such as Shiga are demanding more involvement in deciding whether to allow the resumption, claiming that they could also be severely affected in the event of a nuclear accident.

A pair of reactors at Kyushu Electric’s Sendai complex, located in Kagoshima Prefecture, in September became the first units to meet the new regulations. Local municipalities have already given the green light to their resumption and they could go back online early next year.

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