[TOKYO] Japan's nuclear regulator on Monday approved an application from Kansai Electric Power Co to extend the life of two ageing reactors beyond 40 years, the first such approval under new safety requirements imposed since the Fukushima disaster.
The move means Kansai Electric, Japan's most nuclear reliant utility before Fukushima led to the almost complete shutdown of Japan's atomic industry, can keep reactors No 1 and 2 at its Takahama plant operating until they are 60-years-old.
Both reactors have been shutdown since 2011 and any restart will not take place immediately as Kansai Electric needs to carry out safety upgrades at a cost of about 200 billion yen (S$2.57 billion).
A company spokesman told Reuters the upgrades involve fire proofing cabling and other measures and will not be completed until October 2019 at the earliest.
Takahama No 1 reactor is 41-years-old and the No 2 unit is 40-years-old. Located west of Tokyo, both have a capacity of 826 megawatts and are pressurised water reactors, which uses a different technology than the boiling water reactors that melted down at Fukushima in 2011.
Kansai's No 3 and 4 units at the Takahama plant are under court-ordered shutdown after they were restarted earlier this year, a ruling that was upheld last Friday.
Opinion polls consistently show opposition to nuclear power following Fukushima. Critics say regulators have failed to take into account lessons learned after a massive earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Only two other reactors have restarted under the new regulatory regime, those at the Sendai plant operated by Kyushu Electric Power in southwestern Japan, Shikoku Electric Power expects to begin operations of its Ikata No 3 reactor in late July after receiving approval from the regulator, a spokesman has told Reuters.
Osaka-based Kansai Electric, which used to get about half of power supplies from nuclear plants before the 2011 disaster, says it needs to get reactors running to cut costs and improve its financial position.
It is facing competition from other suppliers after the government in April opened up the retail power market to full competition.