Japan's nuclear regulator on Wednesday took a step toward approving the proposed restart of two reactors by the operator of the crippled Fukushima power plant.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority presented at its meeting a draft document that will serve as certification that Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Nos. 6 and 7 reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power station in Niigata Prefecture have cleared new safety standards, officials said. The NRA is expected to agree to the document at its next meeting on Oct. 4.
Formal approval of the restart is expected to come early next year at the earliest, after receiving public opinions and other processes. The actual restart of the reactors, which requires consent from local authorities, is still believed to be at least a few years away.
The reactors would be the first operated by Tepco to pass the regulator's safety review following the world's worst nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The two units at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa on the Sea of Japan coast are boiling-water reactors, the same as those that experienced meltdowns in Fukushima.
Local governments in the area of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant remain cautious about their resumption.
Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama has said it will take "around three to four years" for the utility to win the required local consent for a restart.
Tepco, which faces massive compensation payments and other costs stemming from the Fukushima crisis, has been desperate to resume operation of its idled reactors so it can reduce spending on costly fossil fuel imports for non-nuclear thermal power generation.
While other utilities have resumed operation of nuclear reactors after clearing safety review, Tepco has faced close scrutiny from regulators over whether it is qualified to once again operate a nuclear power plant.
The regulator had stringently questioned Tepco on its posture to ensure the safety of the units. Tepco earlier this month agreed to request from the regulator to include a safety pledge as part of its legally binding reactor safety program.
Safety programs drawn up for reactors need to be approved by the regulator and if it finds a grave violation, it can demand the utility halt nuclear power operations.
Before giving formal approval, the regulator will need to consult with the economy, trade and industry minister to confirm Tepco is fit to be an operator, and also solicit public opinions.
The two Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors are the newest among the seven units at the plant. The complex is one of the world's largest nuclear power plants, with a combined output capacity of 8.2 million kilowatts.