Fukushima operator can restart nuclear reactors at world’s biggest plant
Tepco, still struggling to decommission Fukushima Daiichi, gets initial approval to start two reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa
Reactors No 6, right, and No 7 at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant.
The operator of Japan’s stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has been given initial approval to restart reactors at another atomic facility, marking the first step towards the firm’s return to nuclear power generation more than six years after the March 2011 triple meltdown.
Japan’s nuclear regulator on Wednesday approved an application from Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) to restart two reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa – the world’s biggest nuclear power plant – even as the utility struggles to decommission Fukushima Daiichi.
The process will involve reviews and consultations with the public, and the restart is also expected to encounter strong opposition from people living near the plant on the Japan Sea coast of Niigata prefecture.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) ruled that the No 6 and No 7 reactors, each with a capacity of 1,356 megawatts, met stringent new safety standards introduced after the Fukushima disaster. The authority’s five commissioners voted unanimously to approve the restarts at a meeting on Wednesday.
The decision drew criticism from anti-nuclear campaigners.
Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace Germany, accused the NRA of being reckless.
He added: “It is the same disregard for nuclear risks that resulted in Tepco’s 2011 triple reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi site. Approving the safety of reactors at the world’s largest nuclear plant when it is at extreme risk from major earthquakes completely exposes the weakness of Japan’s nuclear regulator.”
Greenpeace said 23 seismic faultlines ran through the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa site.
Tepco said in a statement that it took the regulatory authority’s decision seriously and would continue making safety improvements at its plants while it attempted to decommission Fukushima Daiichi and compensate evacuees.
Despite the NRA’s approval, it could take years for the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors to go back into operation.
The governor of Niigata, Ryuichi Yoneyama, has said he will not decide on whether to agree to the restarts until Tepco completes its review of the Fukushima accident – a process that is expected to take at least another three years.
Fukushima evacuees voiced anger at the regulator’s decision.
“It looks like things are moving forward as if the Fukushima nuclear crisis is over,” Hiroko Matsumoto, who lives in temporary housing, told Kyodo news. Matsumoto, whose home was close to Fukushima Daiichi, said Tepco should “never forget that a serious nuclear accident can cause enormous damage”.
Tepco has been seeking permission to restart the idled reactors to help it reduce spending on fossil fuel imports, which have soared since the disaster, triggered by a huge earthquake and tsunami, forced the closure of all of Japan’s nuclear reactors. Four have since gone back online after passing safety inspections.
The utility faces huge compensation claims from people who were evacuated after three of Fukushima Daiichi’s six reactors went into meltdown on 11 March 2011, as well as a rising decommissioning bill.
Earlier this year, the Japan Centre for Economic Research said the total cost of the Fukushima cleanup – which is expected to take up to 40 years – could soar to between 50-70tn yen (£330bn-£470bn). Earlier estimates put the cost at about 22tn yen.
Nuclear power is expected to become a key issue in the election later this month.
The prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has argued that reactor restarts are necessary for economic growth and to enable Japan to meet its climate change commitments. The government wants nuclear to provide about 20% of Japan’s energy by 2030.
But the newly formed Party of Hope, which has emerged as the main opposition to Abe’s Liberal Democratic party, wants to phase out nuclear power by 2030.
Opinion polls show that most Japanese people oppose nuclear restarts.
NRA approves safety measures at TEPCO plant in Niigata
The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture
Japan’s nuclear watchdog on Oct. 4 approved Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s safety measures taken to restart two reactors in Niigata Prefecture, the first such approval for the company since the Fukushima nuclear disaster unfolded.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority confirmed the results of its screening on the technological aspects of the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors that TEPCO wants to bring online at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant.
It was also the first time for the NRA to conclude that boiling-water reactors, the same type as those at TEPCO’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, met the new safety standards adopted after the meltdowns at the plant in 2011.
The NRA plans to hear opinions from the public about its judgment for 30 days before deciding on whether to make the approval official. It will also solicit the views of the minister of economy, trade and industry.
As one condition for official approval, the NRA is requiring the industry minister to oversee the utility’s management policy concerning its initiative and responsibility for work to decommission the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
From now, the NRA will check equipment designs and security regulations, including how TEPCO will guarantee its promise that its priority is on safety, not economic benefits.
The NRA’s screening process at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant went beyond checking technological aspects of TEPCO’s safety measures. Given TEPCO’s history of mistakes and blunders, NRA members also discussed whether the utility was even eligible to operate nuclear power plants.
In response to the NRA’s demands that TEPCO take full responsibility for decommissioning the Fukushima No. 1 plant, the utility in late August stressed that its stance of putting importance on safety is “a promise to the people.”
The NRA then approved TEPCO’s eligibility but attached some conditions.
In late September, however, it came to light that workers at the Fukushima No. 1 plant were erroneously setting water gauges to measure groundwater levels of wells around reactor buildings, which could cause leaks of highly contaminated water to the outside water.
Inspectors will face a formidable challenge in judging individual issues facing TEPCO based on security regulations.
However, even if TEPCO passes all of the screenings, it must win the consent of local governments to restart the reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant.
Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama has said that he will wait for three or four years to make decision on the restarts, until his prefectural government completes its own investigation into the cause of the 2011 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
TEPCO reactors clear safety review for 1st time after Fukushima
From left, the No. 5, No. 6 and No. 7 reactors of the Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Niigata Prefecture are seen from a Mainichi Shimbun aircraft on Sept. 30, 2017.
TOKYO (Kyodo) — Two reactors in Niigata Prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast run by the operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant cleared government safety standards on Wednesday, becoming the first of the utility’s idled units to pass tightened screening.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority endorsed at its meeting a draft document that serves as certification that Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Nos. 6 and 7 reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power station have met the new, stricter safety standards introduced after the Fukushima disaster.
The two reactors are the newest among the seven units at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant. The complex is one of the world’s largest nuclear power plants, with a combined output capacity of 8.2 million kilowatts.
Despite the effective approval by the nuclear regulator, the actual restart of the two reactors will likely be at least a few years away as Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama says it will take “around three to four years” for the utility to win local consent for the resumption of operation.
Formal approval of the restart by the nuclear watchdog is expected after receiving public opinions and consulting with the economy, trade and industry minister to confirm that Tepco is fit to be an operator.
The clearance of the two units is likely to be a boost for the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which is keen to retain nuclear power generation despite Japan suffering the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex in March 2011, triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami.
Tepco, facing huge compensation payments and other costs stemming from the Fukushima crisis, has been desperate to resume operation of its idled reactors so it can reduce spending on costly fossil fuel imports for non-nuclear thermal power generation.
It filed for safety assessments of the two idled reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in September 2013.
In addition to assessing technical requirements, the review focused on whether Tepco is qualified to once again operate a nuclear power plant as it struggles with work to scrap the Fukushima Daiichi complex, an effort expected to take until around 2051, and reduce contaminated water around the crippled plant where radiation levels remain high.
The two reactors are boiling-water reactors, the same as those that experienced meltdowns in the Fukushima crisis. No such types have previously cleared Japan’s safety standards after the Fukushima disaster, partly as they are required to conduct major refurbishment to boost safety.
Under the new safety requirements, BWRs must be equipped with filtered venting systems so that radioactive substances will be reduced when gas and steam need to be released to prevent damage to containment vessels.
The venting facilities are not an immediate requirement for pressurized water reactors as PWRs are housed in containers larger than those of BWRs, giving more time until pressure rises inside the containers.
In the review, the regulator had questioned Tepco on its posture to ensure the safety of the units. The company last month agreed to a request from the regulator to include a safety pledge as part of its legally binding reactor safety program.
Safety programs drawn up for reactors need to be approved by the regulator and if it finds a grave violation, it can demand the utility halt nuclear power operations.