Kansai reactors clear initial safety rules; to hike power rates

Kansai reactors clear initial safety rules; to hike power rates

TOKYO/OSAKA - Japan's atomic regulator gave initial safety clearance on Wednesday to two reactors operated by Kansai Electric Power, the second approval under new rules introduced after the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe.

Kansai, Japan's most nuclear-reliant utility that provides power to the country's second biggest metropolitan area, also said it hoped to hike electricity rates for a second time from April, stating that its corporate survival was "at risk."

The utility is expected to log its fourth straight annual loss this year and Kansai president Makoto Yagi told reporters in Osaka the firm would shed even more red ink in fiscal year 2015 without a rate hike.

All 48 of Japan's nuclear reactors were gradually taken offline after the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in northeast Japan following an earthquake and tsunami in 2011, that set off the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

The shutdown has forced nuclear operators to turn to more expensive fossil fuels to run power stations, pushing most of them into a sustained period of losses.

Japan's public remains opposed to atomic power, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government has been pushing to restart reactors that meet strict rules set after Fukushima.

Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner swept to victory in Sunday's election amid record low voter turnout.

The win gives Abe's government more clout to push its reflationary policies and restart Japan's idled nuclear fleet.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority published its draft safety approval of Kansai's Takahama No. 3 and No. 4 reactors, which will be followed by a month-long public comment period.

Kansai will be the second utility to receive regulatory clearance to restart after Kyushu Electric Power's Sendai plant got an approval earlier this year.

There remains no timetable for a restart but many expect the Sendai plant to resume operations some time next year.

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