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Japan Regulator Closer to Ruling on Some Nuclear Plant Restarts

Japan’s nuclear regulator signaled it’s closer to a ruling on safety standards at one or more of the country’s reactors, and clearing one obstacle on the way to allowing the restart of plants shut after the 2011 disaster.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority may within two to three weeks narrow the list of the six nuclear stations undergoing safety checks to a final selection stage, Chairman Shunichi Tanaka told reporters yesterday in Tokyo. Likely candidates and the timing of the process weren’t specified.

The comments indicate the process of inspecting Japan’s fleet of nuclear power stations in the wake of the Fukushima disaster may be inching toward a resolution. The question of restarts has dogged the industry, which has been counting on getting some reactors back online by the middle of this year.

Japan relied on nuclear energy for almost a third of its electricity prior to the disaster. None of Japan’s 48 functioning atomic plants are currently operating, forcing the nation’s utilities to import costlier fossil fuels and resulting in months of trade deficits.

Safety checks won’t be completed by the end of the country’s financial year in March, Tanaka said on Feb. 12. The chairman initially forecast in July that six months would be needed to complete the inspections.

Four of Japan’s regional utilities -- Kansai Electric Power Co., Shikoku Electric Power Co., Hokkaido Electric Power Co. and Kyushu Electric Power Co. -- applied in July for safety checks. Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant, applied in September.

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