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Regulators approve draft nuclear assessment

Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority has approved a draft safety plan for restarting reactors at the Sendai nuclear plant in Kagoshima Prefecture.

The facility in southern Japan is operated by Kyushu Electric Power Company. It could be the first nuclear plant in the country to get the go-ahead to resume operation.

NRA officials unanimously approved the draft plan on Wednesday. They said the utility has satisfied their stricter safety requirements for nuclear facilities.

The NRA will issue their final assessment of the plan after 30 days of public hearings, starting on Thursday.

The focus will then shift to whether the government and the utility can convince local residents and municipalities to agree.

Kyushu Electric must also clear procedures for restarting the reactors. These include inspections, and getting the NRA to approve the design of equipment at the plant.

Observers say the reactors are unlikely to be back online until October at the earliest.

Japan introduced new safety guidelines for nuclear reactors last year after the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in March 2011.

The guidelines require nuclear plants to come up with stricter measures against natural disasters including earthquakes and tsunami.

Utilities must also come up with a plan of action against serious nuclear accidents at their plants. The action plan had been voluntary in the past.

All 48 nuclear reactors across Japan are currently offline. They must be screened by the Nuclear Regulation Authority before being restarted.

A total of 19 reactors at 12 plants, including the Sendai Plant, have been undergoing screening since last July.

The nuclear regulator set up two teams. One is in charge of estimating the scale of possible natural disasters for the reactor in question, and the other checks the facility's safety measures. The teams have conducted screening meetings open to the public.

So far, screening for pressurized water reactors at 6 nuclear plants is preceding other applications.

Jul. 16, 2014 - Updated 04:26 UTC