A decade after Niigata’s nuclear close call

Tepco wants to restart reactors in Niigata to help pay for USD190 billion needed for Fukushima follies

p16-cp-a-20170716-870x530.jpgEmployees work in the central control room for the No.7 reactor at Tokyo Electric Power Holdings’ Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture in 2009.

 

On July 16, 2007, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake rattled the world’s largest nuclear power complex at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa in Niigata Prefecture. This was on a site that the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. had insisted was seismically safe.

Two years earlier, the Tokyo High Court had ruled against local plaintiffs backed by scientists who insisted the authorities were wrong and that there was an active fault line adjacent to the site. In 2007, Mother Nature overruled the judge, raising questions about relying on old evaluations by institutions favoring nuclear energy in assessing site safety, particularly given subsequent advancements in seismic science.

The good news is that the reactors shut down automatically and the plant withstood tectonic shocks way beyond what anyone had anticipated when designing the structures. The bad news trickled slowly out of Tepco, but an NHK special shortly afterwards aired a startling revelation. The plant manager told NHK that it was very lucky that everything worked as planned and that there was no serious accident — especially considering that the door of the control center had been jammed and nobody could get in. This meant that if there had been a crisis, nobody would have been able to manage it because the emergency controls were inaccessible.

The door was stuck because the land subsided due to the earthquake. It is hard to anticipate every contingency, and that is precisely why accidents happen. If the safety systems had not functioned as planned, Kashiwazaki might have spun out of control, but luckily it was just a close call.

Also worrisome was the transformer fire that took an age to put out because the water pipes had ruptured due to the earthquake. And why was there a nine-hour delay in informing local authorities about the situation, including some radiation leaks? Apparently the plant workers were preoccupied with setting up whiteboards in the parking lot as an improvised control center and using their mobile phones to communicate with each other. Tepco also downplayed how much radioactive water had leaked, a spill that Asahi reporters spotted workers mopping up with paper towels.

At Kashiwazaki-Kariwa there are seven reactors with an 8,200 megawatt capacity, enough for 16 million households. This clustering of reactors means that if there was an accident, it could cascade into a major disaster.

The reactors went online between 1985 and 1997 and generated $2 billion in subsidies for the hosting towns, on top of tax revenues and many high-paying jobs. But local enthusiasm has dimmed considerably since then. Back in 2001 Tepco was caught falsifying repair and maintenance data at all of its 17 reactors, suggesting that management did not nurture a culture of safety. Then, in 2005, the International Atomic Energy Agency warned that fire prevention measures at the Niigata plant were inadequate.

Niigata voters have since elected nuclear skeptics for mayor and prefectural governor. In a nationwide poll conducted by the Asahi Shimbun last October, 57 percent of the public opposed restarting nuclear reactors while only 29 percent were in favor. Earlier in 2016, a poll conducted by the pro-nuclear Japan Atomic Energy Relations Organization found that 12 percent of respondents favored maintaining or increasing Japan’s nuclear energy output while nearly 63 percent wanted to end nuclear power in Japan, either by phasing it out (48 percent) or immediately pulling the plug (15 percent).

Public opposition to nuclear power is not only driven by safety concerns and the tragic fate of tens of thousands of nuclear refugees displaced from ancestral homes in Tohoku. The Fukushima disaster is also a financial black hole that will burden taxpayers and ratepayers for decades to come. And there are the high costs of decommissioning many aging reactors and the expense involved in building a site to permanently store radioactive waste.

Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama has slowed plans to restart any reactors, calling for a comprehensive safety review, development of an evacuation plan and an assessment of the Fukushima disaster’s public health impact, all of which could take three years. Tepco’s latest rehabilitation plan includes restarting two of the reactors by March 2020, saying the profits would help it pay off the staggering ¥21.5 trillion ($190 billion) bill for Fukushima, an estimate that is likely to keep rising over the next few decades.

The mayor of Kashiwazaki has also weighed in, requesting that Tepco begin decommissioning one reactor before agreeing to restart the two reactors Tepco wants to bring back online. The Nuclear Regulation Authority is currently conducting safety inspections at two of the reactors. The mayor thinks that seven reactors is too much and is worried about the safety of the control center, wondering if it is sufficiently strong to withstand a powerful quake, possibly because Tepco admitted to misleading the NRA in February about just how strong the structure is. He is hopeful that decommissioning will generate jobs and revitalize the local community.

The mayor also expressed concern about the threat of nuclear missiles from North Korea, prompting NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka to joke that Tokyo would make a better target. Funny guy.

The Fukushima debacle has already cost in excess of $100 billion and the government estimates that total will skyrocket in coming years. If only Tepco had heeded internal warnings in 2009 about the possibility of a monster tsunami striking the Fukushima No. 1 plant and built a bigger tsunami wall. That would have cost $1 billion, a bargain in retrospect. Will the ongoing trial of three Tepco executives find them responsible for this and other instances of negligence? Probably not.

And now there are five nuclear reactors operating in Japan, and soon two more in Kyushu, due to court rulings favorable to the utilities. The fate of an additional 35 operable reactors is uncertain, but the staggering costs of decommissioning many of these — so far the NRA has approved five decommissioning proposals that will cost about $10 billion raise questions about the viability of nuclear energy in Japan.

Toshiba, which is selling off its key assets to pay for its purchase of Westinghouse Electric, knows just how risky the nuclear business is, and hopefully Tepco now understands that cutting corners to save money was abysmal risk management.

Many Japanese must envy South Korea, where newly elected Prime Minister Moon Jae-in has vowed to phase out nuclear energy and cancel plans to build new plants and extend the operating life of its 25 aging reactors. In contrast, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has reinstated nuclear power into the national energy strategy, targeting 20 to 22 percent of the overall mix, demonstrating the resilient influence of Japan’s “nuclear village.”

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2017/07/15/commentary/decade-niigatas-nuclear-close-call/#.WWqb53WlXQY.facebook

 

New Tepco chief reaffirms Fukushima commitment, but underscored need for plant restarts

b-tepco-a-20170624-870x691.jpgTomoaki Kobayakawa

 

Dealing with the aftermath of nuclear disaster at Fukushima No.1 power plant remains the most important mission for Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., Tomoaki Kobayakawa, Tepco’s new president, said Friday, but he also stressed the need to restart nuclear plants for the sake of continuing the utility’s business.

To fulfill responsibilities over (disaster in) Fukushima is the fundamental (policy) for our company, and that will never change at all,” Kobayakawa, the former chief of the Tepco’s electricity retail arm, said at a news conference at the firm’s headquarters in Tokyo.

Kobayakawa officially took the helm as head of the ailing power giant after the reshuffle of top management was approved at a shareholder’s meeting earlier on Friday.

Struggling financially amid ballooning costs for dealing with the aftermath of the nuclear accident caused by the devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011, Tepco is effectively under control of the state with the state-backed Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corp. holding the majority of its shares.

Ten of 13 board directors were replaced with new members, including honorary chairman of Hitachi Ltd. Takashi Kawamura. Kawamura was appointed the new chairman to back Kobayakawa.

Under the new board, Tepco will proceed with the new revitalization program it mapped out in May. The plan includes reactivating Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture, so as to make up for the estimated ¥22 trillion cost of dealing with damage, including decommissioning of Fukushima No.1 and compensation for disaster-hit areas.

I believe securing safety and gaining the understanding of local people are our utmost priorities” in order to reactivate the nuclear plant, Kobayakawa said.

In October 2016 in the Niigata gubernatorial election, voters elected doctor and lawyer Ryuichi Yoneyama, whose anti-nuclear stance is firmly against any restart of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, over a pro-nuclear candidate from the Liberal Democratic Party.

At the shareholder’s meeting in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward earlier Friday, which was attended by about 1,200 people, some expressed diverse opinions on the company’s intention to restart nuclear power plants.

One suggested that restarting a nuclear power plant could be a “ray of hope” that stands as the symbol of recovery from the disaster, while another claimed Tepco’s financial recovery will “never be possible” without reactivating ceased plants.

Others were concerned about the firm’s plan to continue its nuclear power business.

One shareholder called the proposed restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant as “a long-shot gamble” repeatedly saying that the Niigata plant is “good-for-nothing”, and that it has only caused the utility to incur costs of ¥680 billion for safety measures.

Another shareholder urged the utility to abandon its plan to reactivate Fukushima No.2 and Kariyazaki-Kariwa, and open them for engineers worldwide to use as research centers for decommissioning technologies.

These proposals were turned down at the end of the three-hour meeting after facing opposition from board members.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/06/23/business/corporate-business/new-tepco-chief-reaffirms-fukushima-commitment-underscored-need-plant-restarts/

Incoming Tepco chief vows decision on whether to scrap Fukushima No. 2

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The incoming president of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. has expressed eagerness to accelerate moves for tie-ups with other companies in an effort to revive its business following the meltdowns at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear complex in 2011.

Capital strength is important to seriously embark on growth businesses,” Tomoaki Kobayakawa, the head of Tokyo Energy Partner Inc., Tepco’s electricity retail arm, said in a recent interview. The 53-year-old is set to assume the post of president on June 23.

His remarks were in line with Tepco’s new business turnaround plan announced on March 22, in which it said it aims to realign and integrate its nuclear and power transmission and distribution businesses with other utilities to improve profitability.

The company, burdened with massive costs stemming from the Fukushima disaster, was placed under effective state control in exchange for a ¥1 trillion ($9 billion) capital injection in 2012.

Compensation and disaster cleanup costs have continued to rise, with the latest estimate reaching ¥22 trillion — twice the sum expected earlier.

Kobayakawa said JERA Co., a joint venture of a Tepco unit and Chubu Electric Power Co. in the area of coal power generation, is a “good example” of a tie-up, as enlarged capital has allowed it “to move powerfully.”

He said the power transmission and distribution businesses will also “produce outcomes if we can (align with other companies) and cover a wide network.”

I want to make more and more proposals,” he said, pointing to the possibility of forming alliances with businesses overseas, given that domestic demand for electricity is on the decline.

On the resumption of nuclear power generation, Kobayakawa expressed his intention to respect the view of local municipalities in restarting reactors 6 and 7 at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast.

Masahiro Sakurai, the mayor of Kashiwazaki, the city that hosts the nuclear plant along with the neighboring town of Kariwa, has said that the decommissioning of one of reactors 1 to 5 at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant would be a condition for the restart of reactors 6 and 7.

I haven’t met (the mayor) in person. I would like to confirm his intention,” Kobayakawa said.

Kobayakawa also reiterated the company’s position that it will decide “comprehensively” on whether the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant, located around 12 km south of the crippled Fukushima No. 1, would be scrapped as the prefectural government has urged the decommissioning of the plant.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/06/15/business/corporate-business/incoming-tepco-chief-eager-tie-ups-raise-funds-vows-decision-whether-scrap-fukushima-no-2/#.WUKt5zdpzrc

Mayor to link reactor decommissioning to restarting 2 others at same TEPCO plant

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KASHIWAZAKI, Niigata — The mayor of this city, home to the idled Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant, said he intends to demand at least one of five reactors at the plant be decommissioned as a precondition for restarting two others.

“I’m not assuming that all seven reactors will be in operation,” Mayor Masahiro Sakurai told a regular news conference on June 1.

This is the first time that the mayor has mentioned specifically the possible decommissioning of reactors at the power station.

Mayor Sakurai said, “There are growing worries for local residents,” citing the insufficient strength of the power station’s special quake-proof building that will serve as a headquarters in the event of an emergency and North Korea’s firing of missiles.

Sakurai suggested it is inevitable to scale down the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant. “Considering the Fukushima nuclear accident, seven reactors are too many,” he said.

At the same time, the mayor emphasized that he does not intend to demand that all of the No. 1 to 5 reactors at the plant be shut down as a precondition for reactivating the No. 6 and 7 units, for which the Nuclear Regulation Authority is conducting safety inspections.

He said he will offer to leave a decision on which reactors will be decommissioned to plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and the national government, and urged these entities to present a decommissioning plan within two years.

Mayor Sakurai also said he believes that businesses related to the reactor decommissioning will help revitalize the local economy.

In response to the mayor’s comments, a TEPCO official said, “We haven’t heard anything directly from the Kashiwazaki Municipal Government. We’d like to continue to listen to their opinions on us.”

https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170602/p2a/00m/0na/002000c

Niigata governor dashes TEPCO’s hopes for reactor restarts in 2019

uguhgjkmll.jpgTokyo Electric Power Co. President Naomi Hirose, left, hands a report to Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama at the prefectural government office in Niigata on April 19.

NIIGATA–Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama said a longer period may be needed to verify safety at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, destroying Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s schedule to restart reactors there.

Yoneyama announced the possible extension of the safety-confirmation period, which he had earlier put at three or four years, at a news conference on April 19 after his meeting with TEPCO President Naomi Hirose here.

The governor said it will take time to confirm that the nuclear plant can withstand major earthquakes, especially a building that is expected to serve as the headquarters in the event of a severe accident at the site.

Only after safety is confirmed can discussions begin on restarting the nuclear plant in the prefecture, Yoneyama said.

Under TEPCO’s reconstruction plan currently being worked out, operations at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, one of the largest in the world, will resume in April 2019 at the earliest.

However, TEPCO needs the prefectural government’s consent to restart reactors, and Yoneyama’s words show that the utility’s plan will be impossible to achieve.

TEPCO in 2014 became aware that the headquarters building at the plant was insufficient in terms of earthquake resistance. But the company failed to disclose the shortcomings and maintained its policy of using the building as a disaster headquarters.

The deficiencies of the building came to light in February this year.

Hirose visited the Niigata prefectural government office on April 19 to explain to Yoneyama the issue of the insufficient anti-quake capabilities at the plant’s building.

He acknowledged problems in the mindset of his employees.

They had a tendency to put priority on the benefits of their own company,” Hirose told the governor.

As for the time needed to confirm safety at the nuclear plant, Yoneyama told Hirose, “The period could become longer depending on the circumstances.”

The prefectural government plans to set up a committee in June at the earliest to verify safety at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.

I don’t think nuclear power plants are indispensable for the economies of Japan and Niigata Prefecture,” Yoneyama said at the news conference after his meeting with Hirose.

The reactor restarts, however, may be crucial for TEPCO’s finances.

The company needs to secure 500 billion yen (about $4.6 billion) every year for 30 years to decommission the reactors at its crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and pay compensation to those who evacuated after the disaster unfolded in March 2011.

Resumed operations of two reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant could provide 100 billion yen a year for TEPCO.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201704200028.html

Tepco’s latest plan for Kawashiwazaki-Kariwa plant envisions restart in 2019

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Tokyo Electric is now aiming to restart the Kawashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture in April 2019, sources say.

The company plans to include the goal in its financial outlook under a reconstruction program, the sources said Friday.

Restarting the giant plant is considered important to Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s ability to recover from the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March 2011.

But the prospects for rebooting the plant are dim because it is opposed by Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama.

The reconstruction plan is also expected to include Tepco’s commitment to pursuing integration with other companies in some areas.

Tepco is expected to draw up the new plan and file for government approval as early as this month.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/04/15/national/tepco-aims-restart-kawashiwazaki-kariwa-nuclear-plant-2019/#.WPHA7ogrKUk

TEPCO blunders raise doubts on ability as nuke plant operator

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Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama, center, is briefed by the chief of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in the No. 6 reactor building in February, while TEPCO President Naomi Hirose, right, looks on.

 

Recent revelations concerning Tokyo Electric Power Co. raised fundamental doubts about whether the utility has done sufficient soul-searching over the accident at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011.

The revelations concern the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture, where the company is seeking to restart the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors as soon as possible. In one instance, a key facility has been found to be lacking an adequate level of earthquake resistance.

TEPCO’s latest blunders emerged during the final stages of the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s screening of the two reactors, based on stricter safety standards introduced after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The NRA summoned TEPCO President Naomi Hirose. It should come as no surprise that the NRA’s chairman, Shunichi Tanaka, instructed Hirose to re-submit documents in the application for the restarts after ensuring their accuracy as a matter of his responsibility.

The new standards are nothing but the NRA’s minimum requirements for safe reactor operations.

Utilities have the primary responsibility for keeping track of the latest scientific knowledge and improving the safety of nuclear power plants.

A company that fails to pay appropriate attention to developments it finds inconvenient or cannot make swift decisions when faced with such a situation is not qualified to operate a nuclear reactor.

The NRA summoned Hirose over the earthquake resistance of a key building that is designed to serve as an on-site emergency response headquarters at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in the event of a severe accident.

TEPCO had said the building could withstand an earthquake with a maximum intensity of seven on the Japanese seismic scale. In the process of the NRA’s screening, however, the company acknowledged that it may not be able to withstand even half of the assumed strongest seismic shaking.

TEPCO said it learned about the inadequate level of earthquake resistance in 2014. The utility said the information was not shared within the company due to poor communications among different divisions. But that explanation should not be allowed to let it off the hook.

TEPCO also failed to disclose until recently other pieces of information about the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, such as the possibility that an earthquake could cause liquefaction of the ground under a seawall built to protect the plant from tsunami.

NRA officials have criticized TEPCO for its reluctance to disclose problems in a straightforward manner.

Local governments around the plant are similarly aghast.

Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama, who has been cautious about endorsing TEPCO’s plan to restart the reactors, has stated that he does not trust the utility.

TEPCO also appears to be losing the trust of Kashiwazaki Mayor Masahiro Sakurai, who had shown some understanding to the idea of restarts. He said anxiety about TEPCO’s nature has “heightened” due to the latest revelations, combined with the disclosure last year that the company tried to cover up the core meltdowns at the Fukushima plant.

There is now the possibility that I may not give my consent” to the restarts, he said.

The 2007 Chuetsu offshore earthquake destroyed an administrative building at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.

Learning lessons from the disaster, TEPCO started constructing base-isolated buildings designed to serve as on-site emergency response headquarters at its nuclear power plants.

During the 2011 nuclear disaster, such a building at the Fukushima No. 1 plant was used as the on-site command post.

But the NRA’s screenings of reactors operated by other utilities had revealed that there are cases where buildings constructed with base isolation technology do not meet the new safety standards.

Critics say TEPCO is not eager to incorporate new findings.

It has been repeatedly pointed out that TEPCO first needs to thoroughly reform its organization and corporate culture, among other aspects.

We feel compelled to state again that the company must confront its problems.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201703040025.html