Japan may restart some nuclear reactors next July, a government-affiliated institute said today, on the anniversary of Hiroshima.
The Institute of Energy Economics Japan’s forecast is in line with comments from Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) commissioner Kenzo Oshima, but the country may have as few as four reactors operating by March 2015 meaning a continued heavy reliance on fossil fuels.
"Under our low-case scenario, we expect the first reactor to resume from next July," Akira Yanagisawa, the manager of the institute's energy demand, supply and forecast analysis group, said.
The news comes as Japan marks the 68th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, with about 50,000 people standing for a minute of silence in Hiroshima's peace park near the epicentre of the early morning blast that killed up to 140,000 people on August 6, 1945.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that as the sole country to face nuclear attack Japan has the duty to seek to wipe out nuclear weapon, but made no mention of the dilemma the country is facing over nuclear energy, nor the tens of thousands of people displaced by radioactivity from the Fukushima disaster.
Japan relied on nuclear power for about a third of its electricity supply before the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant north of Tokyo.
Operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) is still struggling to contain the aftermaths of the disaster, which took place more than two years ago, with highly radioactive water still seeping into the ocean according to an official from the NRA.
Japan has just two of its 50 reactors operating as the nuclear units shut down for checks and upgrades. Both reactors will need to be idled for refuelling and assessments by September.
Hiroshima's mayor, Kazumi Matsui, chided the government for its efforts to restart the nuclear plants and to export nuclear technology to other countries.
"This summer, eastern Japan is still suffering the aftermath of the great earthquake and the nuclear accident. The desperate struggle to recover home towns continues. The people of Hiroshima know well the ordeal of recovery," Matsui said.
"We urge the national government to rapidly develop and implement a responsible energy policy that places top priority on safety and the livelihoods of the people," he said.
A recent agreement on discussing nuclear energy co-operation with India, he said, was likely to hinder efforts to abolish nuclear weapons.
Last year, the previous government pledged to eventually phase out nuclear power and vastly increase use of renewable energy. Abe has backtracked from that commitment, saying that he favours a "responsible" energy policy that would allow nuclear plants to restart, reducing the burden on the economy from costly imports of natural gas and oil.
Should Japan restart 16 reactors by March 2015, the institute's "middle" scenario, annual fossil fuel imports will be 7 trillion yen (£47bn) higher in the year ending March 2015 than in year ended March 2011, the institute forecast.
It also said that Japan, which takes about a third of global liquefied natural gas (LNG) cargoes, was likely to raise LNG imports to fresh record highs for the next two business years.