TOKYO (Reuters) - Trade minister Yukio Edano said on Thursday there is a strong possibility that no nuclear reactors in Japan will resume operations by summer, despite fears of possible power shortages.
"A tight supply-demand balance (of electricity) does not affect our judgment on nuclear safety and we are in the process of making that judgment," Edano, who holds the energy portfolio, told parliament.
"It is a quite possible that no reactors will resume operations towards the summer."
Only two of Japan's 54 nuclear reactors are still operating amid safety concerns after last year's earthquake and tsunami triggered a radiation crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, leading to widespread contamination and mass evacuations.
Since then no reactors shut for routine maintenance have restarted as they need to meet new safety checks and receive clearance from both the central and local governments.
Without such approval, all Japan's reactors could be shut by early May, raising fears of power shortages among manufacturers as well as the general public.
The government, however, said in January that Japan will be able to avoid power cuts this summer even if the nation's last few nuclear reactors cease operating.
The dwindling usage of nuclear power generation has forced Japan to import more oil and liquefied natural gas even as global energy prices soar amid growing tensions between Iran and the West.
Tokyo Electric's last active reactor is set to go into maintenance on March 26, while Hokkaido Electric's Tomari No.3 unit is scheduled to be closed for routine checks late April.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Michael Watson & Kim Coghill)