Japan Takes Another Step Toward Restarting Nuclear Power Plants

Japan’s atomic regulator today approved a safety report for two reactors owned by Kyushu Electric Power Co., another step toward restarting plants shut after the Fukushima nuclear disaster more than three years ago.

The report was approved by the regulator’s commissioners at a meeting in Tokyo today. The reactors must still clear two more steps in the stricter safety approval process set up by the Nuclear Regulation Authority after the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima plant north of Tokyo in 2011.

The two units are unlikely to restart before the first quarter of 2015, Hidetoshi Shioda, a Tokyo-based analyst at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc., said last month in a report. With all Japan’s 48 operational nuclear plants shut for safety reviews, the country will have functioned without nuclear power for one year on Sept. 15.

Kyushu Electric is among 10 utilities that have applied for safety tests on 20 reactors, according to the regulator. City and prefectural governments also get a say in the process.

The Kyushu Electric plant, near Satsumasendai city on the southern island of Kyushu, is closer to South Korea’s capital of Seoul than it is to Tokyo. It’s also about 1,600 kilometers (994 miles) from the melted reactors in Fukushima that forced evacuation of 160,000 people after an earthquake and tsunami caused radiation leaks at the facility.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to restart reactors deemed safe by the regulator because the country has been forced to open coal- oil- and gas-fired plants to meet electricity needs, driving up fossil fuel imports and Japan’s trade deficit.

Nuclear Debate

The Sendai reactors have become the focus of debate about whether one of the world’s most seismically active nations should be operating nuclear plants.

Keidanren, the country’s largest business lobby, advocates a return to what it calls stable and cheap atomic energy that doesn’t rely on imports.

A poll last month by Kyodo newswire among 54 companies operating in Kyushu and Okinawa showed a split, with 23 approving a restart at Sendai, 23 non-committal and eight didn’t answer.

Public polls by national newspapers show opposition to nuclear power remains in the majority post-Fukushima. Fifty-nine percent of respondents to a poll in July published by the Asahi newspaper were against the restart of the Sendai units.

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