Japan needs more time to decide whether to restart two offline nuclear reactors, the trade minister said on Tuesday, as concerns about a summer power crunch vie with safety worries in the wake of last year's Fukushima crisis.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will not make any immediate decision on a restart date, Trade Minister Yukio Edano, who holds the energy portfolio, told reporters.
The Prime Minister instructed me to compile a standard that takes into account the analyses of the (Fukushima) crisis causes, a safety standard even if it is temporary, Edano, who holds the energy portfolio, told reporters on Tuesday evening.
It will take some time to obtain the understanding of the public including the locals. Of course, it is not good to be too slow but neither is it good to rush, he said.
The nuclear safety watchdog will compile the standard and present it at the next round of the ministers' meeting to discuss the restarts of the No.3 and No.4 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co's Ohi plant, Edano said.
The date for the next meeting has not been set, Edano said, but Kyodo news agency quoted a government official as saying that it will take place later this week.
All but one of Japan's 54 reactors have been shut, mostly for maintenance checks, over the months since the radiation 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.
The 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.
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 percent more imported liquefied natural gas - equivalent to a total of 51.8 million tonnes - and 150 percent 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 percent 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.
(Additional reporting by Yoko Kubota, Osamu Tsukimori and Nobuhiro Kubo; Editing by Linda Sieg and Nick Macfie)