December 17, 2014 / 2:26 AM / 3 years ago

Kansai Elec's Takahama reactors clear initial safety hurdle

TOKYO, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Japan's atomic regulator gave initial safety clearance on Wednesday to two reactors operated by Kansai Electric Power, Japan's most nuclear-reliant utility, the second approval under new rules introduced after the Fukushima crisis.

The possible restart of the Takahama nuclear plant west of Tokyo is good news for Kansai Electric, which is expected to log its fourth consecutive year of losses this year and is widely reported to raise electricity rates for a second time.

All 48 of Japan's nuclear reactors were gradually taken offline after the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in northeast Japan following an earthquake and tsunami, 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 nuclear reactors that meet strict rules set after the Fukushima disaster.

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

It will be the second plant to receive regulatory clearance to restart after Kyushu Electric Power's Sendai plant for restart earlier this year.

There remains no timetable for a restart but many expect the Sendai plant to start operating again sometime next year. (Reporting by Kentaro Hamada; Writing by Mari Saito; Editing by Aaron Sehldrick and Michael Perry)

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