Slow safety screening holding up nuclear reactor restarts in Japan

TOKYO - Japan's nuclear watchdog gave long-awaited safety approval to two reactors Thursday, paving the way for their possible restart later this year, but the drawn-out screening process is putting a strain on an electric utility sector struggling with the costs of running fossil-fuel facilities.

The Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at Kansai Electric Power's Takahama nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture were the second set of units to be granted approval, following two facilities operated by Kyushu Electric Power that passed the checks last September.

"We'll work as hard as we can to restart them as soon as possible," Hideki Toyomatsu, an executive vice president who handles the nuclear power business, told a news conference in Fukui Prefecture that day.

But hurdles lie ahead. Kansai Electric must still receive approval for construction plans detailing safety measures, as well as undergo on-site inspections.

Local municipalities may not be eager to provide their consent either. Fukui Prefecture Governor Issei Nishikawa does not plan to start the approval process until everything else has been green-lighted. Some think that with nationwide local elections looming this spring, Nishikawa is trying to avoid nuclear power plants from turning into a campaign issue.

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