Is Japan ready to trust Tepco with nuclear power again?

The nuclear operator has been granted permission to restart two of its reactors on the Sea of Japan coast, revenues from which it needs to offset massive compensation payments stemming from the Fukushima disaster
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Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Station.
At a quiet end-of-year meeting, Japan’s nuclear power regulators recently gave the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) official permission to restart two of its nuclear reactors on the Sea of Japan coast – reactors which have been idle for the better part of ten years.
This was not the first time the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) had approved a restart – it has okayed 12 reactors, owned by four utilities, since coming into being in 2013. But it was the first time the authorities had openly questioned a utility’s competence to operate a reactor – any reactor.
The authority added “eligibility” to its list of concerns – meaning Tepco’s eligibility to run a nuclear plant. “Tepco is different from other power companies,” said former chairman Shunichi Tanaka.
Tepco isn’t just any utility. It owned and operated the four reactors destroyed in the March 11, 2011 “triple disaster” of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Fukushima prefecture. It also owns seven undamaged reactors on the opposite side of Japan, which it desperately wants to begin producing power – and revenue – to offset its enormous liabilities.
The nuclear authority’s actions are the first approvals it has extended to operators of boiling water reactors, or BWRs – the same type of reactor that suffered multiple meltdowns in the Fukushima accident. BWRs also have some safety concerns that are unique to them. About half of Japan’s 40-odd currently-operable nuclear power plants are BWRs.
The seven Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plants on the Sea of Japan coast constitute the largest commercial nuclear power complex in the world. Each is capable of producing enough electricity to light up a small city. They were shut down after the 2007 earthquake and then shut down again after 3/11.
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Signs from an anti-nuclear protest against the Japanese government in Tokyo.
 
Tepco’s management is eager – to say the least – to get at least the two reactors (Units 6 and 7) approved and on-line in order to produce revenues that will offset the massive compensation payments stemming from the disaster, and to cover the cost of imported fossil fuels.
Returning at least two reactors to operations would yield about 200 billion yen (US$1.8 billion) in added revenues. It has been a part of the utility’s business plan almost from the time of the accident, without much expectation – until late last month – that it could be realized.
Tepco’s President Tomoaki Kobayakawa testified before the authority several times last summer, reassuring the commissioners of Tepco’s commitment to safety. He also said he would see the decommissioning of the Fukushima plants “through to the end.”
He turned the question of competence around by insisting that his utility needs the revenue from operating the two K-K plants so that it can fulfill its responsibilities to the Fukushima safety and decommissioning project.
“It seems Tepco’s response on competency is to shift the focus to ‘financial competency,’” said Caitlin Stronell of the Citizens Nuclear Information Center. In any event, the authority seemed persuaded enough to give a green light to a restart, despite the lingering fears from the Fukushima disaster.
Tepco says approximately 6,000 staff and contract workers are laboring at the Kashiwazaki plant, or almost as many workers as are employed in the decommissioning activities at Fukushima. Among other safety features, they have erected a 50 meter-high seawall to guard against future tsunamis.
Hydrogen re-combiners have been installed to prevent a repeat of the hydrogen explosions that rocked the Fukushima Daiichi units. They have also stored 20,000 tons of water in a nearby hilltop reservoir to provide cooling water using gravity, rather than diesel pumps, to keep cores from melting in any loss-of-coolant accident.
Tepco’s operations on the Sea of Japan were compromised in 2007, when the site was hit by the Chuetsu Earthquake measuring 6.7 on the Richter Scale.
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That earthquake caused relatively little structural damage and never came close to a Fukushima-style meltdown. However, it was discovered that the severity of the quake exceeded the design criteria, which resulted in a lengthy shutdown for all seven reactors as Tepco struggled to meet stricter rules.
The utility was in the process of bringing three reactors back on-line when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck in March 2011, putting the big seven out of operation once again and eventually shutting down all of Japan’s commercial reactors.
Successive governors of Niigata prefecture have taken a very cautious position on restarting any of the K-K plants. Three-term Governor Hirohiko Izumida always maintained that he would not approve any restart until the exact causes of the Fukushima disaster are fully known. His recently elected successor, Ryuichi Yomeyama, has the same policy.
This will continue to be an issue for Tepco, for in this area of policy, the national government follows the advice of the governor.
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World’s Biggest Nuke Plant Gets a Long-Awaited OK

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This Sept. 30, 2017 aerial photo shows the reactors of No. 6, right, and No. 7, left, at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, Niigata prefecture. 
TEPCO gets OK to restart nuclear reactors, to the displeasure of some
(Newser) – The biggest nuclear power plant in the world sits idle, as it has for nearly seven years. But that state is set to change, and not without public trepidation. The Guardian reports that Japan’s nuclear watchdog this week gave Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) the green light to restart two of the seven reactors at Kashiwazaki-kariwa, which fell victim to the country’s nuclear power moratorium in the wake of the March 2011 Fukushima disaster. That calamity occurred on TEPCO’s watch, and the utility says the money it will generate from Kashiwazaki-kariwa’s power is key to funding its continuing decommissioning efforts at Fukushima. It has poured more than $6 billion into Kashiwazaki-kariwa in an effort to make it immune to the series of disasters that befell Fukushima.
A 50-foot seawall provides tsunami protection, for instance, and 22,000 tons of water sit in a nearby reservoir, ready for the taking if reactors need sudden cooling. But locals aren’t convinced—the Japan Times reports some people shouted at the meeting where the restart approval was granted—and that matters: Though the restarts are penciled in to occur in spring 2019, the AFP reports local authorities need to give their OK, and that process could take years. The plant is located in Niigata prefecture, and locals there cite the active seismic faults in the area as a major concern; the Guardian notes “evidence that the ground on which Tepco’s seawall stands is prone to liquefaction in the event of a major earthquake.” A second is the fear that should an evacuation be necessary, it would be much less successful than that of Fukushima due to the bigger population.

Local gov’ts of areas hosting nuke plant in Niigata Pref. divided over reactivation

In the meantime, if the reactivation of the atomic power station is to be delayed, there is a possibility that the national government’s grants to the host municipalities will be reduced.
That’s how it works…
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Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama, left, talks with Masaya Kitta, second from right, head of TEPCO Niigata regional headquarters, at the Niigata Prefectural Government building on Dec. 27, 2017
NIIGATA — There are no prospects that two reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant, which have passed a safety review by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), will be restarted in the foreseeable future, as local bodies hosting the plant remain divided over the issue.
The mayors of the city of Kashiwazaki and the village of Kariwa, which jointly host the power station, are in favor of reactivating the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors at the plant owned by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (TEPCO).
Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama, on the other hand, remains cautious about the resumption of the units’ operations.
Gov. Yoneyama told Masaya Kitta, head of TEPCO’s Niigata regional headquarters who visited the governor on Dec. 27 that the prefectural government cannot agree on the early reactivation of the plant.
“I have no intention of objecting to the decision by the NRA, but our position is that we can’t start talks on reactivation unless our examination of three-point checks progresses,” Yoneyama told Kitta. The governor was referring to his policy of not sitting at the negotiation table over reactivation unless three points are examined by the prefectural government: the cause of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, potential effects on people’s livelihoods as well as health in case of an accident, and safe evacuation measures. He has stated that it would take two to three years to complete the checks of these points.
The governor also told Kitta, “Our examination will never be affected” by the NRA’s judgment that the plant meets the new safety standards. Moreover, the prefectural government is poised to independently examine the outcome of the NRA’s safety review of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power station.
Kashiwazaki Mayor Masahiro Sakurai and Kariwa Mayor Hiroo Shinada were separately briefed by plant manager Chikashi Shitara on the outcome of the NRA safety review of the facility.
Both mayors have expressed their appreciation for TEPCO’s response up to this point, and Sakurai urged the power company to “make efforts to reassure local residents (about the nuclear plant),” while Shinada urged the utility to “try to provide information in an appropriate manner.”
In the meantime, if the reactivation of the atomic power station is to be delayed, there is a possibility that the national government’s grants to the host municipalities will be reduced.
The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry is continuing to provide such grants to local bodies hosting idled nuclear plants by deeming them to be running plants in some form. In April 2016, the national government revised its rules on grants to nuclear plant host municipalities and decided to reduce the amount of funding if the facilities are not restarted within nine months after the completion of the NRA’s safety review, which is necessary for reactivation.
The No. 6 and 7 reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant need to pass two more inspections within a year. If it takes several years to form a consensus among the local governments concerned, however, grants will be reduced in fiscal 2020 at the earliest. The amounts of reductions are estimated at some 400 million yen for Kariwa, about 100 million yen for Kashiwazaki and approximately 740 million yen for Niigata Prefecture.

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Fears of another Fukushima as Tepco plans to restart world’s biggest nuclear plant

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Tokyo Electric Power employees check instruments in a mock-up of the plant’s central control room.
Consent given to turn reactors at the massive Kashiwazaki-kariwa plant back on, but Japanese worry over active fault lines and mismanagement
If a single structure can define a community, for the 90,000 residents of Kashiwazaki town and the neighbouring village of Kariwa, it is the sprawling nuclear power plant that has dominated the coastal landscape for more than 40 years.
When all seven of its reactors are in operation, Kashiwazaki-kariwa generates 8.2m kilowatts of electricity – enough to power 16m households. Occupying 4.2 sq km of land along the Japan Sea coast, it is the biggest nuclear power plant in the world.
But today, the reactors at Kashiwazaki-kariwa are idle. The plant in Niigata prefecture, about 140 miles (225km) north-west of the capital, is the nuclear industry’s highest-profile casualty of the nationwide atomic shutdown that followed the March 2011 triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi.
The company at the centre of the disaster has encountered anger over its failure to prevent the catastrophe, its treatment of tens of thousands of evacuated residents and its haphazard attempts to clean up its atomic mess.
Now, the same utility, Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco], is attempting to banish its Fukushima demons with a push to restart two reactors at Kashiwazaki-kariwa, one of its three nuclear plants. Only then, it says, can it generate the profits it needs to fund the decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi and win back the public trust it lost in the wake of the meltdown.
This week, Japan’s nuclear regulation authority gave its formal approval for Tepco to restart the Kashiwazaki-kariwa’s No. 6 and 7 reactors – the same type of boiling-water reactors that suffered meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi.
After a month of public hearings, the nuclear regulation authority concluded that Tepco was fit to run a nuclear power plant and said the two reactors met the stricter safety standards introduced after the 2011 disaster.
Just before that decision, Tepco gave the Guardian an exclusive tour of what it claims will be the safest nuclear plant in the world.
Now, as on the day of the triple disaster that brought widespread destruction to Japan’s northeast coast, Kashiwazaki-kariwa has the look of a working nuclear plant. Just over 1,000 Tepco staff and 5,000-6,000 contract workers provide the manpower behind a post-Fukushima safety retrofit that is projected to cost 680 billion yen ($6.1bn).
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Kashiwazaki-kariwa nuclear power plant, with the Japan Sea in the distance.
They have built a 15-metre-high seawall that, according to Tepco, can withstand the biggest tsunami waves. In the event of a meltdown, special vents would keep 99.9% of released radioactive particles out of the atmosphere, and corium shields would block molten fuel from breaching the reactors’ primary containment vessels. Autocatalytic recombiners have been installed to prevent a repeat of the hydrogen explosions that rocked four of Fukushima Daiichi’s reactors.
Other parts of the sprawling complex are home to fleets of emergency vehicles, water cannon, back-up power generators, and a hilltop reservoir whose 20,000 tonnes of water will be drawn to cool reactors in the event of a catastrophic meltdown.
“As the operator responsible for the Fukushima accident, we’re committed to learning lessons, revisiting what went wrong and implementing what we learned here at Kashiwazaki-kariwa, says the plant’s chief, Chikashi Shitara. “We are always looking at ways to improve safety.
“Because of our experience at Fukushima, we’re committed to not making the same mistakes again – to make the safety regime even stronger. That’s what we have to explain to members of the public.”
‘This is no place for a nuclear power plant’
The public, however, is far from convinced. Last year, the people of Niigata prefecture registered their opposition to the utility’s plans by electing Ryuichi Yoneyama, an anti-nuclear candidate, as governor. Exit polls showed that 73% of voters opposed restarting the plant, with just 27% in favour.
Yoneyama has said that he won’t make a decision on the restarts, scheduled for spring 2019, until a newly formed committee has completed its report into the causes and consequences of the Fukushima disaster – a process that could take at least three years.
For many residents, the plant’s location renders expensive safety improvements irrelevant. “Geologically speaking, this is no place for a nuclear power plant,” says Kazuyuki Takemoto, a retired local councillor and a lifelong anti-nuclear activist.
Takemoto cites instability caused by the presence of underground oil and gas deposits in the area, and evidence that the ground on which Tepco’s seawall stands is prone to liquefaction in the event of a major earthquake.
Local critics have pointed to the chaos that could result from attempting to evacuate the 420,000 people who live within a 30km radius of Kashiwazaki-kariwa. “That’s more people than lived near Fukushima, plus we get very heavy snowfall here, which would make evacuating everyone impossible,” Takemoto adds. “The situation would be far worse than it was in Fukushima.”
Adding to their concerns are the presence of seismic faults in and around the site, which sustained minor damage during a magnitude-6.6 offshore earthquake in 2007. Two active faults – defined by nuclear regulators as one that has moved any time within the last 400,000 years – run beneath reactor No. 1.
But for Tepco, a return to nuclear power generation is a matter of financial necessity, with the utility standing to gain up to ¥200 billion in annual profits by restarting the two reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa.
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Workers at Kashiwazaki-kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture, Japan.
The bill for decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi, decontaminating neighbourhoods and compensating residents affected by the meltdown could reach 21.5tr yen [$191bn], according to government estimates. That is on top of the money the firm is spending on importing expensive fossil fuels to fill the vacuum left by the nuclear shutdown.
Earlier this year, the Japan Centre for Economic Research said the total cost of the four-decade Fukushima cleanup – including the disposal of radioactive waste from the plant’s three damaged reactors – could soar to between 50-70tr yen.
“As Tepco’s president and our general business plan have made clear, restarting the reactors here is very important to us as a company,” says Shitara.
Much is at stake, too, for Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who has put an ambitious return to nuclear power generation at the centre of his energy policy. His government wants nuclear to provide about 20 percent Japan’s electricity by 2030 – a move that would require the restart of about 30 reactors.
Of the country’s 48 operable reactors, only four are currently online. Several others have passed stringent new safety tests introduced in the wake of Fukushima, but restarts have encountered strong local opposition.
As part of the restart process, people across Japan were recently invited to submit their opinions on the Kashiwazaki-kariwa restart and Tepco’s suitability as a nuclear operator.
Kiyoto Ishikawa, from the plant’s public relations department, insists Tepco has learned the lessons of Fukushima. “Before 3-11 we were arrogant and had stopped improving safety,” he said. “The earthquake was a wake-up call. We now know that improving safety is a continuous process.”
The firm’s assurances were dismissed by Yukiko Kondo, a Kariwa resident, who said the loss of state subsidies if the plant were to remain permanently idle was a sacrifice worth making if it meant giving local people peace of mind.
“Tepco caused the 2011 accident, so there is no way I would ever support restarting nuclear reactors here,” she said. “They kept telling us that Fukushima Daiichi was perfectly safe – and look what happened.”

Protesters rally against TEPCO approval

Some asked why Tepco is being given approval when victims of the Fukushima disaster have not been given relief. Others said Tepco is unfit to operate nuclear reactors.
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Protestors have opposed the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s endorsement of safety measures taken at 2 reactors operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company.
About 20 people, including members of a citizen’s group opposed to reactor restarts, rallied on Wednesday in Tokyo in front of the building where the regulators were meeting.
They raised a banner that said the regulators shouldn’t encourage the restarts.
Some asked why TEPCO is being given approval when victims of the Fukushima disaster have not been given relief. Others said TEPCO is unfit to operate nuclear reactors.
The group handed out petitions to regulation authority employees, demanding that the reactors’ assessments not be approved.
Masahide Kimura of the citizens’ group said regulators must ask whether the public really wants TEPCO deemed capable of running reactors.
He said the regulators’ decision diverges from public opinion, and is not likely to be supported.

Two Niigata nuclear reactors run by Tepco clear new safety standards, a first for the company since the Fukushima crisis

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The Nuclear Regulation Authority gave its approval Wednesday to restart the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture, the first reactors operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. to formally clear the stricter safety standards
TOKYO (Kyodo) — Two nuclear reactors on the Sea of Japan coast have become the first run by the operator of the crippled Fukushima power plant to formally clear the stricter government safety standards imposed after the 2011 crisis.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority endorsed Wednesday safety measures for the No. 6 and 7 reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power station in Niigata Prefecture, paving the way for their restart by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., known as Tepco.
The two reactors are boiling-water reactors, the same as those that suffered meltdowns in the Fukushima crisis caused by the massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. No such reactor types had previously cleared Japan’s tougher safety standards since the disaster, partly as they are required to conduct major refurbishment for added safety.
The NRA’s endorsement of the two units gives impetus to the Japanese government’s push to restart idled nuclear power plants that were taken offline after the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
In addition to assessing technical requirements, the review by the NRA focused on whether Tepco is qualified to operate a nuclear power plant as it struggles with the scrapping of the Fukushima Daiichi complex — an effort expected to take until around 2051 — and in dealing with contaminated water around the crippled plant where radiation levels remain high.
Tepco, facing huge compensation payments and other costs stemming from the Fukushima crisis, has been keen to resume operation of its reactors to reduce dependence on costly fossil fuel imports for non-nuclear thermal power generation.
However, the process of restarting the two reactors straddling the municipalities of Kashiwazaki and Kariwa in Niigata could still require at least several more years as local governments need to give their consent to resumption.
Among them, Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama has said it will take “at least three to four years” before deciding whether to give his approval to bringing them back online, citing the need to assess the causes of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex.
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.
In a move not seen in the screening processes for other utilities, Tepco agreed to a request from the regulator to provide a pledge to carry through the scrapping of the Fukushima complex, leading the regulator to soften its position.
Tepco filed for safety assessments of the two reactors in September 2013.

60 holes at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuke plant found unfilled in violation of building code

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Reactor buildings at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant are seen in this file photo taken in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture, on April 26, 2017.
 
Sixty holes violating the Building Standards Act were found recently in firewalls at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture, in addition to two similar holes found in July this year, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) announced Nov. 22.
Of the 60 holes, 49 date back to the 1980s when the No. 1 reactor building was built, revealing administrative agencies’ lack of consideration for proper construction management.
Reactor buildings have several thousand holes in them for pipes. Of these holes, those going through firewalls are required to have any gaps filled in with mortar caulk or other nonflammable material. In July, TEPCO found two holes in a firewall in the No. 2 reactor building that had not been properly filled in. A subsequent inspection of the entire plant found that 60 holes had not been filled in — a building code violation — of which 41 were in radiation-control areas.
The power company will begin taking countermeasures, such as filling the holes in, as early as the beginning of the New Year. “At the time the reactor buildings were built, our awareness of the risks was insufficient,” TEPCO spokesperson Yoshimi Hitosugi said.