Watchdog says TEPCO nuclear disaster drill ‘unacceptable’

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An emergency drill at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture
August 22, 2018
The government’s nuclear watchdog slammed Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s efforts as “unacceptable” in communicating with nuclear authorities during an emergency drill held at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant.
TEPCO, operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, was among three utilities to receive the lowest of the three-level scores in terms of ability to share information expediently and accurately, the Nuclear Regulation Authority said July 25.
It was the first time for the company to be given the lowest score on communication skills in a yearly drill.
“It is unacceptable that TEPCO received a low rating, given that it was responsible for the Fukushima disaster,” an NRA official said. “TEPCO appears to be too compartmentalized for its relevant sections to work together and share information.”
The NRA is set to instruct the company to hold additional drills at the plant, which is located in Niigata Prefecture, if it receives another low rating.
The utility was slow in relaying information to the watchdog, and its briefing on its handling of the mock accident was inadequate, according to the NRA’s report.
“We could not respond sufficiently because the envisioned accident was harsh,” said Kiyoto Ishikawa, the chief of the plant’s publicity department, at a news conference.
The drill in question was carried out in March under the scenario of coping with a serious accident.
It involved difficult procedures to cope with a failure in the communication system to send such critical information as the pressure level in the reactors’ containment vessels to the NRA. Operators also simulated a string of maneuvers of the venting system to lower pressure inside the No. 6 reactor that suffered core damage.
“We had to deal with a tough situation because it proceeded with less time allotted for us than in a real accident,” Ishikawa said. “We are determined to make more efforts and improve our standing.”
The NRA’s assessment comes at a time when TEPCO seeks to bring the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant back on line in the near future to save expensive fuel costs incurred by the operation of its thermal power plants.
With seven reactors, the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant is the largest in Japan. It is the only nuclear complex for TEPCO to turn to as it proceeds with decommissioning of the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 nuclear plants.
The two reactors have cleared the screenings by the NRA under the stricter reactor regulations put in place following the 2011 Fukushima triple meltdown.
The other plants that were rated on par with the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in the evaluation of emergency drills were Hokuriku Electric Power Co.’s Shika plant in Ishikawa Prefecture and Chubu Electric Power Co.’s Hamaoka plant in Shizuoka Prefecture.
In the case of the Shika plant, Hokuriku Electric’s in-house information sharing system got bogged down, making it impossible for the NRA to remain in the communication loop.
In total, 10 operators of nuclear power plants carried out emergency drills.
The NRA considers it vital for the operator of a nuclear plant to share accurate information on the accident since the prime minister declares a “nuclear emergency” based on the NRA’s report.
In the Fukushima disaster, TEPCO had trouble passing on information on the unfolding nuclear crisis with the government swiftly and accurately, resulting in confusion.
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LDP-backed candidate wins governor’s race in Niigata

A candidate backed by the pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party won the Niigata gubernatorial election June 10. TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in the Niigata prefecture is the largest nuclear power plant in the world. In December 2017, the Nuclear Regulation Authority completed its major safety screenings of the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors at the plant.
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Hideyo Hanazumi, a candidate backed by the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, celebrates his election victory in Niigata on June 10.
 
June 11, 2018
NIIGATA–A candidate backed by the pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party won the Niigata gubernatorial election June 10, but he remained unclear on whether he would approve the restart of Japan’s largest nuclear power plant.
Hideyo Hanazumi, 60, former vice commandant of the Japan Coast Guard, defeated two other candidates, including Chikako Ikeda, 57, a former Niigata prefectural assemblywoman who was supported by five opposition parties.
The election was held to replace Ryuichi Yoneyama, 50, who resigned in April over a sex scandal.
Yoneyama had shown a cautious stance toward approving the resumption of operations at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in the prefecture.
In December 2017, the Nuclear Regulation Authority completed its major safety screenings of the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors at the plant. That shifted the focus on whether the Niigata prefectural government and the two municipal governments of Kashiwazaki and Kariwa would give their consent to bring the reactors online.
However, Yoneyama said he first wanted to find the cause of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
Hanazumi, who also received support from Komeito, the junior partner in the ruling coalition, took a cautious stance on the reactor restarts during the campaign.
When his victory became certain on the night of June 10, Hanazumi said: “I will firmly maintain the (prefectural government’s) work (of looking into the cause of the Fukushima accident). Based on the results of the work, I will make a judgment as the leader (of Niigata Prefecture).”
He also referred to the possibility of holding another election when he decides on whether to approve the reactor restarts.
Hanazumi, who was vice governor of Niigata Prefecture from 2013 to 2015, garnered 546,670 votes, compared with 509,568 for Ikeda, who was backed by the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the Democratic Party for the People, the Japanese Communist Party, the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party.
Another candidate, Satoshi Annaka, 40, a former Gosen city assemblyman, received 45,628 ballots.
Voter turnout was 58.25 percent, up 5.2 points from 53.05 percent in the previous gubernatorial election held in 2016.
During the campaign, Hanazumi kept a distance from the Abe administration and the LDP as criticism mounted against the prime minister over scandals related to school operators Moritomo Gakuen and the Kake Educational Institution.
Ikeda had also pledged to take over Yoneyama’s work concerning the Fukushima disaster, and she blasted the Abe administration for its pro-nuclear stance.
However, she was unable to effectively differentiate herself from Hanazumi over the restarts at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.
In Tokyo, LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai told reporters that Hanazumi’s victory is good news for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s attempt to seek a third term in the LDP presidential election in autumn.
“It’s certain that favorable winds have begun blowing,” Nikai said.

Nuclear issue again takes center stage in Niigata election

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The three independent candidates for Niigata governor are, from left: Chikako Ikeda, Hideyo Hanazumi and Satoshi Annaka.
 
May 25, 2018
NIIGATA–The election for a new governor of Niigata Prefecture was triggered by a sex scandal, but the key issue facing voters is where the candidates stand on restarting the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, one of the world’s biggest nuclear facilities.
Campaigning officially kicked off May 24.
The outcome of the June 10 vote could have a bearing on the Abe administration’s moves to bring more nuclear plants back online.
Although the candidates are running as independents, two are supported by political parties.
In early speeches, they all outlined their position on the nuclear plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co., but residents are calling on them to be less cautious and state where they truly stand.
“Many people are still suffering (because of the Fukushima nuclear disaster), and there are still many people living as evacuees,” said a female resident, 66. “Some kids have even been bullied. So I really want the candidates to state clearly that Niigata doesn’t need a nuclear plant anymore.”
On the other hand, a 70-year-old female resident argued that local people “cannot flatly oppose the restart of the nuclear plant because of the impact it will have on economy.”
For this reason, she said, “I cannot easily say I am against it.”
The election is expected to come down to a battle between Hideyo Hanazumi, 60, a former vice commandant of the Japan Coast Guard, and Chikako Ikeda, 57, a former member of the prefectural assembly.
Hanazumi is supported by the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, while Ikeda is backed by five opposition parties.
The other candidate is Satoshi Annaka, 40, a former member of the Gosen municipal assembly.
The election was triggered by the April resignation of Ryuichi Yoneyama after he admitted to paying women for sexual favors.
Yoneyama, 50, had taken a cautious stance on restarting the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa complex.
Hanazumi declared that he would take over an investigation started by Yoneyama to understand the fundamental cause of the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in 2011, and reach his decision on the issue when the investigation ends in several years.
Ikeda stressed the significance of reviewing the Fukushima nuclear disaster, stating that continuing with the investigation is “the most basic of basics.”
She said the matter must be pursued rigorously.
Ikeda added that she would make a final decision on the restart issue after careful discussions with residents and other parties.
“I will seek a zero-nuclear Niigata Prefecture,” she said.

Japan Anti-Nuke Movement Seen Unscathed After Key Governor Quits

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18 avril 2018
The resignation of a Japanese governor blocking the restart of the world’s biggest nuclear power plant in his prefecture may not create an opening for the nation’s pro-nuclear forces.
Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama, who campaigned on opposition to restarting Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holding Inc.’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors, said Wednesday he would resign over allegations he paid women for sex. Shares of the utility, known as Tepco, are heading for their biggest weekly gain in more than a year.
The governor was one of a few high-profile opponents to the technology, which the public has viewed with skepticism since the 2011 Fukushima disaster, and the biggest roadblock for Tepco’s effort to run the reactors, two of which have been given the all-clear by regulators. Although the country imposed stronger safety regulations since 2011, only five of its 39 operable reactors are online.
Yoneyama was not a leader, but certainly an important figure in a position to influence the fate of reactors,” said Jeff Kingston, the director of Asian studies at Temple University’s Japan campus. “Not many of those, so he will be missed.”
Yoneyama repeatedly said he wouldn’t support a restart until a panel of experts appointed by the prefecture investigate the Fukushima disaster and study evacuation plans in case of an emergency at the Niigata plant. He said in January that the process would take at least three years.
When is the next election?
Likely around the beginning of June, according to an official in the prefecture’s election commission. The assembly president will officially inform the commission of Yoneyama’s resignation in the coming days, which will then trigger a gubernatorial election within 50 days.
Would the next governor also oppose restarts?
Probably. The last two governors were against restarting the reactors and 64 percent of voters in the last election opposed the move, according an exit poll conducted by the Asahi newspaper.
“It is likely that the next governor will continue an anti-restart policy,” Daniel Aldrich, a professor at Northeastern University, said in an email. “Anti-nuclear sentiment is still high across the country.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party supports the restarts, while most of the opposition parties don’t. Both sides will likely field candidates.
High-ranking officials from the Constitutional Democratic Party, the nation’s largest opposition party and against nuclear restarts, and the Democratic Party told Sankei newspaper Wednesday that opposition parties should band together behind one candidate.
Tamio Mori, who was backed by the LDP in the 2016 Niigata election, could be a potential contender for Abe. Mori is the former mayor of Nagaoka City, and was seen as the more pro-nuclear candidate in the 2016 election, where he captured 46 percent of the vote. He didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment.
What about the review panel?
This timeline for its work might speed up if the new governor is pro-restart, according to Miho Kurosaki, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
“I don’t think the panel review will be removed fully,” said Kurosaki, highlighting lingering safety concerns in the community over a 2007 earthquake that temporarily shut the facility.
Does Tepco even need local approval?
While the local governor’s approval is traditionally sought by utilities before they resume a reactor, it’s not required by law. Kyushu Electric Power Co. continued operating reactors at its Sendai facility despite opposition from a newly elected anti-nuclear governor in 2016.
“The ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ that has provided some unwritten capacity to nuclear host community decision makers is in fact quite weak,” Aldrich said. “Even if another anti-nuclear governor is elected within Niigata, I believe that the economic and political pressure on utilities will push them to restart reactors.”

Niigata’s Prefecture Governor Resignation to Affect the Approval of Tepco’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Plant Restart…

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Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama bows during a press conference at the Niigata Prefectural Government office on April 18, 2018.
Governor quits over sex scandal, affects nuclear reactor restart
April 18, 2018
NIIGATA (Kyodo) — Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama said Wednesday he will resign after admitting to a sex scandal in a move affecting the approval process for the restart of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s nuclear reactors in the central Japan prefecture.
“I sincerely offer apologies for betraying the trust of many people,” Yoneyama told a press conference, admitting that his relationship with a woman, as described in a weekly magazine due out Thursday, may “look to some as prostitution.”
Shukan Bunshun magazine alleged in an online teaser article Wednesday that the 50-year-old governor has been paying money to have sex with a 22-year-old college student. At a news conference Wednesday, the governor said he gave a woman he met online “presents and money so she would like me more.”
Since being elected governor in 2016, Yoneyama has refrained from approving the restart of the No. 6 and 7 reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear complex.
The governor has said he cannot make the decision until the prefectural government completes its own assessment of what caused the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011.
All seven Kashiwazaki-Kariwa units are boiling water reactors, the same as those at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant where three of six reactors melted down in the days after a massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. Last December, two reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa complex cleared safety reviews under the stricter, post-Fukushima regulations.
On Tuesday, Yoneyama said he would consider whether to quit over a forthcoming magazine article about a “woman issue.” Calls for his resignation were growing in the Niigata prefectural assembly.
The gubernatorial election to pick Yoneyama’s successor is expected to be held in early June. Yoneyama will resign with two and a half years of his term remaining.
The seven-reactor Kashiwazaki-Kariwa complex is one of the world’s largest nuclear power plants with a combined output capacity of 8.2 million kilowatts.
Facing huge compensation payments and other costs stemming from the Fukushima disaster, Tepco is keen to resume operation of its reactors to improve its financial performance.
The Japanese government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also supports restarting nuclear reactors that have cleared post-Fukushima safety reviews.
Yoneyama won the Niigata governorship in October 2016 with the support of the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party, which are both opposed to nuclear power. He defeated contenders including a candidate backed by Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito.
 
Governor of Japan’s Niigata resigns to avoid ‘turmoil’ over magazine article
April 18, 2018
TOKYO (Reuters) – The governor of Japan’s Niigata prefecture, home to the world’s largest nuclear power plant, resigned on Wednesday, saying he hoped to avoid political turmoil over an impending magazine article about his relations with women.
News that the governor, Ryuichi Yoneyama, intended to resign sent shares of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc (Tepco) surging as investors bet his departure could make it easier for the utility to restart its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, which is in Niigata prefecture.
Japan has had few reported “#MeToo” cases about sexual harassment involving public figures but Yoneyama’s resignation came on the same day Japan’s top finance bureaucrat resigned on after a magazine said he had sexually harassed several female reporters. The official denied the allegation.
Yoneyama, like his predecessor, is opposed to a restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant and has been a block to attempts to get the station going by the utility, which also owns the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station.

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.

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.