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New reactor being built in western Japan applies for safety checks

This file photo taken on May 21, 2018, shows Shimane Nuclear Power Plant's No. 3 reactor in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, western Japan. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Chugoku Electric Power Co. on Friday applied to the government for safety screening of a nuclear reactor it is constructing, opening up the possibility of it becoming Japan's first newly built reactor to go into operation since the 2011 Fukushima crisis.

Work on the No. 3 unit at the Shimane plant in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, is almost complete and safety checks by nuclear regulators may proceed faster than for another reactor in northeastern Japan that is also under construction.

The No. 3 reactor will have a maximum output of 1,373 megawatts, making it one of the largest in the country. It is a boiling water reactor, the same type as those at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s disaster-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Chugoku Electric was initially aiming to activate the reactor in December 2011 after starting construction in 2006. But the plan was postponed following the Fukushima nuclear crisis, triggered by a massive quake and tsunami disaster that hit northeastern Japan.

The crisis led to the introduction of more stringent safety standards for nuclear power plants. Around 10 reactors have resumed operation in Japan after clearing the safety hurdles, but there has been no case in which new reactors have been activated after the disaster.

"With existing nuclear reactors currently restarting, we thought it is possible to file for checks of the No. 3 unit (even though it is a new reactor)," Tatsuo Kitano, managing executive officer of the utility based in Hiroshima Prefecture, told reporters.

The latest development came a day after Shimane Gov. Zembee Mizoguchi officially gave the green light for Chugoku Electric's application for government screening.

But prospects remain unclear on when the reactor will be put into service as the utility will not just have to clear the safety tests but also again seek local consent for operation.

Chugoku Electric is spending around 500 billion yen ($4.5 billion) on safety measures for the No. 3 reactor, aiming to finish the work by September 2019.

The other new reactor that is seeking to start operation is being built at Electricity Power Development Co.'s Oma nuclear power plant in Aomori Prefecture.

The company known as J-Power applied for government safety checks in 2014, but the process has been drawn out. The Oma reactor is expected to become the world's first commercial reactor to run fully on plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel.

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