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Published: Thursday March 13, 2014 MYT 11:06:20 AM
Updated: Thursday March 13, 2014 MYT 11:07:22 AM

Japan puts two reactors on shortlist for restart screening

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan put two reactors on a shortlist for a final round of safety checks on Thursday, moving a step closer to reviving the country's nuclear industry, three years after the Fukushima disaster that led to the shutdown of all plants.

Two days after the third anniversary of the meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear station, Japan's nuclear regulator placed two reactors operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co on a list for priority screening at a meeting of officials reviewing restart applications.

No timing for a potential restart was decided at the meeting and the next stage of checks incorporates a period of public hearings, which may be a fraught process given widespread scepticism about a return to nuclear power.

Kyushu Electric's Sendai reactors are located about 980 kms (600 miles) southwest of Tokyo. The utility is one of the most reliant of Japan's regional electricity monopolies that provide nuclear power, supplying about a third of Japan's energy needs before Fukushima.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a strong supporter of nuclear power, finalised a mid-term energy plan last month, which embraces nuclear energy and calls for the restart of reactors deemed safe by regulators, overturning the previous administration's plan to eventually mothball all reactors.

Tokyo Electric Power Co's Fukushima Daiichi station suffered a triple meltdown after an earthquake and tsunami that left at least 15,000 dead, sending a massive radioactive plume into the air and ocean.

In the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986, thousands were forced to flee their homes and much of the area around the Fukushima plant, about 220 kms (136 miles) north of Tokyo, remains a no-go zone due to high levels of radiation.

Cleaning up Fukushima is expected to take decades and cost at least 11 trillion yen ($108 billion).

The disaster led to the eventual shutdown of all reactors, forcing utilities to spend billions of dollars on expensive fossil fuels to generate electricity. ($1 = 102.72 Japanese Yen)

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