Japan poised to restart reactors
Japan is moving a step closer to restarting nuclear reactors as utilities file for safety inspections at their idled plants.
It is the clearest sign of Japan's return to nuclear energy nearly two and a half years after the Fukushima disaster.
With all but two of its 50 reactors off line since the disaster, Japan has been without nuclear energy that once supplied about a third of its power.
Four of nine Japanese nuclear plant operators will apply for safety inspections by the Nuclear Regulation Authority for a total of 10 reactors, when new safety requirements take effect.
But critics say the rules have loopholes, including grace periods for some safety equipment.
Pro-industry prime minister Shinzo Abe has pushed for restarting the reactors, saying they are vital to Japan's economy.
The new standards are stricter than in the past and for the first time compulsory. Only reactors that pass the inspections will be allowed to reopen - possibly early next year.
Each inspection could take several months, according to the watchdog, plus obtaining local consent may take another few weeks.
Hit by soaring gas and oil costs to run conventional power generation plants to make up for the shortfall, Japanese utility companies have desperately sought to put their reactors back online.
Nearly all the utilities owning nuclear power plants reported huge losses last fiscal year due to higher costs for fuel imports. Hokkaido Electric Power, for example, said it has been hit with additional daily fuel costs of 600 million yen (£4 million) to make up for three idled reactors. Nuclear operators have already requested rate increases or plan to do so.