UPDATE 1-China to approve only "small amount" of nuclear reactors before 2015

* Reactors to be built only in coastal areas

* France's Areva, Japan's Toshiba among reactor builders that could benefit

* To adhere to ``3rd-generation'' nuclear safety norms for new reactors

(Adds detail, background)

BEIJING, Oct 24 (Reuters) - China will restrict the number of new nuclear reactor approvals to a ``small amount'' before 2015, and will only allow them to be built in coastal regions, the government said on Wednesday.

At a meeting of the State Council chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao, the Chinese government passed new nuclear safety and industry development plans which raised the safety standards for the nuclear sector.

According to a statement issued on official government website www.gov.cn, China will use only ``the highest global safety requirements'' when building new reactors.

``During the 12th five-year plan period, a small amount of nuclear sites on the coast will be approved, none will be inland,'' the website said, referring to the period from 2011 to 2015, but gave no further details.

China suspended all new project approvals in March 2011 in the wake of an earthquake and tsunami off the northeast coast of Japan, which triggered a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima reactor complex.

Before the disaster in Japan, China was widely expected to more than double an existing target of 40 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear capacity, despite concerns about the reliability of its second-generation technologies as well as a shortage of regulators, safety inspectors and skilled staff.

The new sector guidelines included no new capacity target, but industry experts have said a more realistic figure would be 60 to 70 GW. Total capacity stood at 12.57 GW by end-September.

A number of inland cities and provinces, including southwestern Chengdu, have been vying for their own nuclear reactors, but such projects have all been ruled out in the near term after a nationwide inspection of potential construction sites after the Fukushima crisis.

Official government website www.gov.cn said China would adhere to ``third-generation'' nuclear safety standards when approving new reactor projects.

The decision could be good news for foreign reactor builders, including the U.S.-based Westinghouse, owned by Toshiba, and France's Areva.

China's current fleet of nuclear reactors is mostly second-generation and is based on a variety of designs from Canada, France and Russia.

It is also building four Westinghouse-designed AP1000 third-generation reactors, which will be the first of their kind to go into operation, as well as two Areva EPRs in the southern province of Guangdong.

China has also signed a technology transfer pact with Westinghouse that puts the AP1000 designs at the heart of its efforts to produce its own homegrown third-generation reactor.

(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Miral Fahmy and Clarence Fernandez)