A Japanese high court has ordered local utility Shikoku Electric Power Company to continue idling its only operational nuclear reactor until the company provides a satisfactory proof that the?

A Japanese high court has ordered local utility Shikoku Electric Power Company to continue idling its only operational nuclear reactor until the company provides a satisfactory proof that the reactor is safe.

The extended shutdown of the nuclear reactor would lead to higher fuel costs for the Japanese utility.

Shikoku Electric Power's only operational reactor at the Ikata nuclear plant in western Japan was taken offline at the end of December for regular maintenance. The utility planned to restart the reactor within two months, but the Hiroshima High Court has just ruled that the utility had not provided sufficient guarantees that the reactor would be safe in case of earthquakes or volcano eruptions.

Shikoku Electric Power will appeal the high court's ruling, the company said on Friday, as carried by Reuters. Because of the extended nuclear reactor shutdown, the utility's costs on fuel would increase by US$33 million (3.5 billion Japanese yen) per month, according to Keiichiro Inoue, general manager at Shikoku Electric Power's branch office in Tokyo.

Japan is taking nuclear safety extremely seriously after the Fukushima disaster in March 2011 and public perception of how safe nuclear energy is has markedly shifted negative since then.

Resource poor Japan is the?world's biggest LNG importer?and among the top four coal and oil importers. Before the Fukushima disaster, Japan used to generate 27 percent of its power from nuclear reactors.

Following the accident, Japan shut down all its 54 nuclear reactors to reassess their safety, and has restarted only a few of them so far.

Public opposition to nuclear energy is creating uncertainty about how much nuclear generation capacity Japan will restore.

Japan spent an additional annual average of around US$30 billion for fossil fuel imports in the three years after the Fukushima accident, according to EIA estimates.

The country is also looking at alternative energy sources, including hydrogen, in order to reduce its fossil fuels import bill as the future of many of its nuclear reactors is still uncertain.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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