Several nuclear operators applied in July to re-start reactors under new rules drawn up following the Fukushima disaster, but approvals are likely to be tough to get as the industry regulator strives to show a skeptical public it is serious about safety.
Industry projections for a re-start vary from as early as December to mid-2014. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the utilities are keen to get reactors up and running again, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe singling out reducing soaring fuel costs as a key plank of his economic reform plans.
But opinion polls show a majority of Japanese want to end reliance on atomic power, and oppose re-starts.
"The argument that no nuclear power dents the economy would be myopic, considering that if by mistake we had another tragedy like Fukushima, Japan would suffer from further collateral damage and lose global trust," said Tetsunari Iida, head of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, and a renewable energy expert.
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"In the new economy, the less you use energy, the more value-added you become. The big chorus for nuclear power is hampering the efforts to move to a new, more open economy."
Japan consumes about a third of the world's liquefied natural gas (LNG) production, and will likely boost LNG demand to record levels over the next couple of years. LNG imports rose 4.4 percent in volume to a record 86.87 million tons, and 14.9 percent in value to a record 6.21 trillion yen ($62.1 billion) in the year through March.
Imports are likely to rise to around 88 million tons this year and around 90 million tons in the year to March 2015, according to projections by the Institute of Energy Economics Japan based on a mid-scenario that 16 reactors will be back on-line by March 2015.
Thirty months on from the Fukushima disaster, such is the level of public concern about nuclear safety that the government is struggling to come up with a long-term energy policy - a delay that is having a profound impact on the economy and underlining just how costly a nuclear-power-free future may be.
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People in the industry reckon Shikoku Electric Power's Ikata plant, Kyushu Electric's Sendai plant and Hokkaido Electric's Tomari plant are among those likely to be the first to re-start.
"There's talk the Abe administration is putting heavy pressure on the regulator (to re-start reactors)," said Osamu Fujisawa, a Japan-based independent oil economist.
"It's obviously the economy the administration is after (rather than safety). Otherwise, the business community will look away, dealing an end to the Abe administration."