Japan puts Tepco reactors on priority list for restart screening

TOKYO - Japan's nuclear regulator said on Thursday it placed on a priority list for safety screening two reactors operated by Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), the owner of the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

The move potentially brings Tepco closer to restarting the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa station, the world's biggest nuclear plant, though the checks are expected to take at least several months, based on the progress of other screenings.

Even if Tepco gets approval from the regulator any restart must be signed off by the governor of Niigata prefecture, where the plant is located. Governor Hirohiko Izumida is vehemently opposed to any restart, saying the utility has not fully explained or atoned for the Fukushima disaster.

All of Japan's reactors remain shut down for screening under tougher safety standards introduced after the meltdowns at Fukushima in March 2011, following an earthquake and tsunami, although one in southwestern Japan is scheduled for restart next week.

The move by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) to place reactors number 6 and 7 at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa station on the list is also significant because the units are boiling water reactors, the same type that melted down at Fukushima, albeit of a more advanced design.

All other units on the priority list, including the Sendai reactor due to restart next week, are pressurized water reactors, which are more modern and considered less prone to meltdowns.

The regulator has only been able to focus on a few reactors because of a shortage of qualified staff, CommissionerToyoshiFuketa told a meeting of NRA on Thursday where the decision was made, which was broadcast live on the internet.