Four utilities are expected to file for safety checks for up to 12 reactors as soon as the new regulatory standard kicks in next month.
Makoto Yagi, Kansai Electric Power Co. president and chairman of the powerful Federations of Electric Power Companies of Japan lobby, urged the watchdog to promptly finish the screenings to minimize the wait.
"We've been already making necessary preparations and plan to file for screening as soon as we're ready," he said in a statement. "We hope (the watchdog) efficiently makes screenings and a judgment for restart so that applications won't be on hold for a long time."
Watchdog chairman Shunichi Tanaka said the endorsement marks a turning point for Japan's nuclear regulation, but it's only a start.
"I think we now have a framework that is up to international standards. What's more important is whether we can put the spirit in it during the inspection process," he said. The agency is currently conducting probes at several plants to review their past investigations that might have overlooked signs of potential problems.
Tanaka said the requirements need to be revised whenever necessary with the latest expertise from around the world. Japan needs to build a stronger safety culture so that utilities proactively make safety upgrades as a positive business option rather than a burden, he said.
"I hope someday operators see safety improvement is for their own interest and helps their business," he said.
Operators are also required to follow stricter rules about seismic faults at the plant and make sure faults running directly underneath reactors or other key facilities are not active.
Tanaka warned that Japan, one of the world's most earthquake prone country, is not a perfect place to build nuclear plants, and must have much stricter anti-quake and tsunami measures compared to many other countries including those in Europe.
The watchdog is currently conducting fault probes at several plants to revisit their past investigations that might have overlooked signs of potential problems.