Japan ministers to meet on reactor restart

A worker conducts a preliminary survey in Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)'s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant No. 2 reactor torus room.

TOKYO - Japanese ministers are due to meet as early as this month to assess the safety of two nuclear reactors, media reported on Wednesday, which if restarted could reduce imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) equivalent by about 2 million tonnes a year.

The reactors are operated by Kansai Electric Power Co..

Like most of the country's 52 idled reactors, they were shut down for safety checks and not allowed to restart after a massive earthquake and tsunami last year triggered the world's worst nuclear disaster since 1986 at Fukushima.

To compensate for the lack of nuclear power, Japan's utilities have relied heavily on imported LNG and crude.

Industry data shows they burned 25 percent more imported LNG - equivalent to a total of 51.8 million tonnes - and 150 percent more crude oil in the year to February.

The two reactors - units 3 and 4 at Kansai's Ohi plant - each generate 1,180 megawatts of electricity. The independent nuclear agency finished on Tuesday a technical review of the reactors, paving the way for officials to make a decision.

Assuming the reactors' output is being covered by LNG-fired plants, restarting the units would reduce fuel imports by about 2 million tonnes a year, according to Reuters calculations.

But the ministerial meeting, headed by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, is likely to approve the reactors' restart only after the government manages to erase public distrust of its widely criticised safety measures after the Fukushima accident.

This may take months, judging from a poll this week by the Asahi newspaper which showed a majority of Japanese oppose a restart of nuclear power plants currently shut for maintenance.

Japan may face a power shortage this summer as its last two operating reactors are due to shut down for maintenance by May.

Japan has vowed to reduce its reliance on nuclear power and the government is set to decide its new energy policy by this summer after finalising a national debate on its options. A government panel probing the Fukushima disaster is compiling its final report, which is also due in the summer.

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