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TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese high court on Tuesday overturned a lower court's order to shut two reactors operated by Kansai Electric Power, a company spokesman said, potentially ending a drawn-out legal battle and helping the utility to cut fuel costs.
The decision, while positive for Kansai Electric, is not likely to speed the broader process of getting reactors back online nationally after the Fukushima nuclear disaster of six years ago, said a former advisor to the government and others.
"The future of nuclear power is still uncertain. The decision does not mean that the courts will give a 'yes' to other legal cases. Political uncertainty remains strong, too," said Tatsujiro Suzuki, a former vice chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, a government body.
The Osaka High Court overturned the first court-ordered shutdown of an operating nuclear plant in Japan. The lower court had decided last year in favor of residents living near the Takahama atomic station west of Tokyo after they had petitioned for the reactors at the plant to be shut.
Kansai Electric, Japan's most nuclear-reliant utility before the disaster, estimates it will save 7 billion yen ($63 million) per month in fuel once it restarts both reactors.
The restart schedule for the reactors, however, is still uncertain because the utility has been conducting safety checks requested by local authorities after a large crane toppled onto another reactor building at the site due to strong winds in January, a Kansai Electric spokesman said earlier.
There are four reactors at the Takahama plant, with the earlier court order covering the two newest ones.
The company released a profit forecast after the verdict on Tuesday saying it estimates net income of 133 billion yen ($1.2 billion) in the year through March 31, 2017.
The Kansai case was one of many going through the courts after the Japanese public turned away from nuclear power following the Fukushima meltdowns of 2011, the world's worst nuclear calamity since Chernobyl in 1986.
Just three out of Japan's 42 operable reactors are running and the pace of restarts has been protracted despite strong support from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government, which is keen to restore a power source that provided about a third of electricity supply before the Fukushima disaster.
Residents have lodged injunctions against nuclear plants across Japan and lower courts have been increasingly siding with them on safety concerns.
Contentious verdicts are usually overturned by higher courts, where judges tend to be more attuned to government policy, judicial experts say.
"We are going to win some and we are going to lose some, but the political and social situation is such that unstable prospects for restarts are here to stay," Aileen Mioko Smith, an advisor to the plaintiffs and a co-plaintiff in other lawsuits, told Reuters by phone from Osaka.
There are more than 30 cases going through Japan's courts in which communities are seeking to stop reactors from operating, she said.
Kansai Electric shares had ended trading before the court decision was released. They closed 0.3 percent higher on Tuesday at 1,283 yen, while the broader market rose more than 1 percent.
Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick and Osamu Tsukimori; Editing by Tom Hogue