TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's government is considering stress tests on nuclear reactors to quell the safety fears that have prevented the restart of reactors shut since the March tsunami.
Japan is struggling to deal with a drawn-out crisis after meltdowns at the smashed Fukushima Daiichi atomic plant, the world's worst nuclear incident in 25 years.
Tokyo worries that unless other reactors that were shut for regular maintenance are restarted, the country could suffer power shortages when demand peaks in the summer.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said on Wednesday he has asked Trade Minister Banri Kaieda, and the minister for nuclear accidents, Goshi Hosono, to plan new tests.
"I have given instructions to consider ways to further boost assurance about nuclear power plants generally, by making evaluation through something similar to stress tests being conducted in Europe," Edano told parliament.
Stress tests would determine how well nuclear reactors could withstand severe events, like the magnitude 9 earthquake and a 15-metre tsunami that crippled Tokyo Electric Power Co's Fukushima Daiichi facility in the northeast in March.
Countries within the European Union have already agreed to proceed with stress tests on the region's 143 reactors and the bloc has called for them to be carried out worldwide.
Delays in restarting reactors, and the shutdown of tsunami-hit plants, have left Japan with only 19 of its 54 commercial reactors still working.
To avoid unexpected blackouts, the government has told big power users in Tokyo and northeastern Japan they must from July 1 cut their peak power use by 15 percent compared with last year, the first use of such measures since the oil crisis of 1974.
Before March, nuclear accounted for about 30 percent of power supply in Japan, the world's third-biggest nuclear generating country after the United States and France.
Among the first to restart could be two reactors which have completed regular maintenance at Kyushu Electric Power Co's 36-year old plant in the town of Genkai in the southern Saga prefecture, pending an approval from the prefecture's governor, Yasushi Furukawa.
The current parliamentary session has been extended until August to discuss tackling the atomic disaster. It will also focus on rebuilding the quake-hit regions, and a framework to boost the use of renewable energy.
But political deadlock could undermine progress as opposition parties are likely to keep up pressure on Prime Minister Naoto Kan, calling him to keep his promise to quit soon.
(Additional reporting by Stanley White and Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa and Daniel Magnowski)
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