Fukushima's number 4 reactor building.

Japan holds off on Ohi nuclear restart decision

Japan’s trade minister says more time is needed to decide whether to restart two offline reactors at the Ohi nuclear plant.

Kansai Electric Power Co's No.3 and No.4 reactors at Ohi nuclear plant in Fukui prefecture, western Japan, are the first to have passed government-imposed, computer-simulated stress tests, a necessary step before any restart.

Japan’s trade minister Yukio Edano said that Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will meet three cabinet members on Tuesday to discuss restarting the reactors, but will not make any immediate decision.

"Safety should be ensured to avoid massive leaks of radioactive materials as occurred in the Fukushima crisis even if an earthquake and tsunami that exceed past expectations occur," Edano said.

"We should also obtain the understanding of local communities in that regard."

All but one of Japan's 54 reactors have been shut, mostly for maintenance checks, over the months since the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co's Fukushima plant, triggered by a huge tsunami in March 2011. The remaining reactor is set to be closed for maintenance on May 5.

Energy markets are keen to know when the Ohi reactors will go back on line. Their restart could reduce imports of liquefied natural gas equivalent by about 2 million tonnes a year.

To make up for the lost nuclear power, Japan's utilities burned 25 per cent more imported liquefied natural gas - equivalent to a total of 51.8 million tonnes - and 150 per cent more crude oil in the year to February, according to the latest power industry data.

The government, however, must persuade wary locals that the plants are safe after last year's nine-magnitude earthquake and tsunami triggered the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years.

Nuclear power supplied about 30 per cent of Japan's electricity before the crisis, and Noda's administration is now debating what role it should play in the future.

Japan's defences against another major tsunami and the safety of its nuclear plants were thrown into further doubt after two official studies released at the weekend predicted much higher waves could hit and that Tokyo quake damage could be bigger than it was prepared for.

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