Tokyo 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.
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.
Ryuichi Yoneyama, governor of Niigata Prefecture, in Tokyo on Jan. 23.
The man blocking the world’s largest nuclear plant says he grew opposed to atomic energy the same way some people fall in love.
Previously an advocate for nuclear power, Ryuichi Yoneyama campaigned against the restart of the facility as part of his successful gubernatorial race last year in Niigata Prefecture.
He attributes his political U-turn to the “unresolved” 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and the lack of preparedness at the larger facility in his own prefecture, both owned by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.
“Changing my opinion wasn’t an instant realization,” Yoneyama said in an interview. “It was gradual. As people say, you don’t know the exact moment you’ve fallen in love.”
Yoneyama won’t support the restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture until an investigation is complete into the chain of events that resulted in the triple meltdown at Fukushima No. 1, which he visited Wednesday. While utilities don’t need approval from local authorities to restart plants, power companies are tradition-bound not to move ahead until they get their consent.
Yoneyama, a 49-year-old doctor and native of Niigata, is one of the highest-profile local opponents pitted against a political establishment led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The establishment sees nuclear power as crucial for the country’s long-term energy security and environmental goals.
Regulations and public opinion are keeping nearly all of Japan’s atomic stations shut almost six years after the meltdowns at Fukushima, where the search has barely begun for fuel that burned through to the bottom of the reactors.
“If the local governor remains firmly opposed to the restart, it will be very difficult for the reactors to come back online,” said James Taverner, an analyst at IHS Markit Ltd. “In addition to the local government, building the support and trust of local residents is key.”
A Kyodo News poll on the day of Yoneyama’s October election showed about 64 percent of Niigata voters opposed the restart of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, known popularly as KK. The restart of the facility was one of the key issues in the race to replace Gov. Hirohiko Izumida, who was famous for his tough stance against Tepco. He unexpectedly announced in August that he wouldn’t seek a fourth term.
To the residents of the prefecture, Yoneyama was the candidate who would make nuclear safety a priority, while his main opponent gave off the vibe that he was a member of the reactor restarts camp, the former governor said by email.
In last year’s gubernatorial race in Kagoshima Prefecture, where Kyushu Electric Power Co. operates the Sendai nuclear plant, a three-term incumbent was defeated by an opponent campaigning to temporarily close the reactors. A district court last year barred Kansai Electric Power Co. from running two reactors at its Takahama station in Fukui Prefecture only weeks after they’d been turned back on.
Yoneyama supported bringing back online Japan’s reactors during his unsuccessful bid in 2012 for a seat in the Lower House. The country was being forced to spend more on fossil fuel imports after the disaster, so restarting the plants was needed to help the economy recover, he said at the time.
Though Yoneyama’s position switch helped secure his first electoral victory after four failed campaigns for the Diet, nuclear opponents see him driven by more than political opportunism.
“I had my reservations about Yoneyama,” said Takehiko Igarashi, an official at the Niigata division of the anti-nuclear group Nakusou Genpatsu. “But after he was vetted and endorsed by the Japanese Communist Party and other smaller parties that have an anti-nuclear slant, I knew that I could trust him.”
Tepco and Abe’s government see restarting KK as one way for Japan’s biggest utility to boost profits and help manage its nearly ¥16 trillion ($139 billion) share of the Fukushima cleanup. Resuming reactors 6 and 7 will boost annual profits by as much as ¥240 billion, the utility has said.
The economic argument, however, is beginning to hold less sway, with Yoneyama saying the benefits to the local economy are “overstated.” While the prefecture risks missing out on ¥1.1 billion a year in government support without the restarts, that represents a small slice of the prefecture’s budget, which tops ¥1 trillion, according to Yoneyama.
Abe, a strong backer of nuclear power, leads a government aiming for nuclear to account for as much as 22 percent of the energy mix by 2030, compared with a little more than 1 percent now.
While restart opponents like Yoneyama demand the government guarantee the safety of the reactors, they’ve also criticized the evacuation and emergency response plans as inadequate.
In his first meeting with Tepco executives since taking office, Yoneyama earlier this month told Chairman Fumio Sudo and President Naomi Hirose that he won’t support KK’s restart until a new evacuation plan is drawn up using the results of a Fukushima investigation. Tepco will fully cooperate with the probe and stay in communication with the governor, the company said in response to a request for comment.
“Once I realized that the Fukushima disaster couldn’t be easily resolved, of course my opinion changed,” Yoneyama said. “If another accident occurs, overseas tourism will become a distant dream. Even Japanese may flee the country.”
Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama, far right, holds talks with executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. in the Niigata prefectural government office on Jan. 5.
Niigata governor rejects restarts in 1st meet with TEPCO execs
NIIGATA–Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama met Jan. 5 with top executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) for the first time, reiterating his opposition to restarting the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant.
“It will be difficult to approve the restart as long as (the causes of) the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant are not verified. In the present circumstances, I cannot accept the restart,” Yoneyama told Fumio Sudo, chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc., and Naomi Hirose, president of the company.
It was the first time for Yoneyama to meet with TEPCO executives since he assumed the post of Niigata governor last October. The talks were held in the Niigata prefectural government office.
Yoneyama, noting that it will take several years for the Niigata prefectural government to verify the causes of the 2011 nuclear disaster, asked the TEPCO executives to provide more information and other forms of cooperation.
In response, Sudo said, “The priority is to hear voices of local residents.”
This seemed to suggest that TEPCO will not restart the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant as long as the Niigata governor continues to resist the move.
A council of experts of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announced late last year that the costs for dealing with the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster will almost double to 21.5 trillion yen ($185 billion) from 11 trillion yen initially estimated in 2013.
To help cover the amount, TEPCO planned to restart two reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa to generate 100 billion yen in annual profits. But that now looks difficult, given Yoneyama’s firm stance on the issue of restarts.
Gov. says restart of nuclear plant in Niigata to take “several years”
The restart of a nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. on the Sea of Japan coast will likely take “several years,” the governor of Niigata Prefecture said Thursday, highlighting the difficulty in concluding post-2011 nuclear disaster reviews.
The utility known as TEPCO has been seeking to reactivate the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, the world’s largest by generation capacity, as soon as possible to boost revenue, as it grapples with ballooning costs stemming from the 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan’s northeast.
“There can be no discussions about a restart without reviewing” factors including the cause of the Fukushima nuclear accident and evacuation plans for residents, Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama said in his first talks with TEPCO executives since assuming office in October.
Japan governor tells Tepco bosses nuclear plant to stay shut
The governor of Japan’s Niigata prefecture reiterated his opposition to the restart of Tokyo Electric Power’s (Tepco) Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, adding it may take a few years to review the pre-conditions for restart.
During a meeting on Thursday with Tepco Chairman Fumio Sudo and President Naomi Hirose, Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama, who was elected in October on his anti-nuclear platform, repeated his pledge to keep the plant shut unless a fuller explanation of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster was provided.
He also said that evacuation plans for people in Niigata in case of a nuclear accident and the health impacts that the Fukushima accident have had would need to be reviewed before discussing the nuclear plant’s restart.
The Japanese government last month nearly doubled its projections for costs related to the disaster to 21.5 trillion yen ($185 billion), increasing the pressure on Tepco to step up reform and improve its performance.
Three reactors at Tepco’s Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant melted down after a magnitude 9 earthquake struck Japan in March 2011, triggering a tsunami that devastated a swathe of Japan’s northeastern coastline and killed more than 15,000 people.
Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama receives flowers on his first day in office Tuesday at the Niigata Prefectural Government office in the city of Niigata
NIIGATA – On his first day in office, Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama reiterated his opposition to an early restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant.
“I can’t discuss (the matter) while the investigation is still in progress,” Yoneyama told a news conference Tuesday, referring to the probe into the March 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
“I can’t accept a resumption of the plant’s operation under what I understand as the current situation,” he said.
Having never before held public office, Yoneyama won a landslide victory on Oct. 16. His campaign stressed his negative stance toward the restart of the power plant that straddles the village of Kariwa and the city of Kashiwazaki.
Operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., it is the biggest nuclear power plant in the world.
Supported by three opposition parties — the Japanese Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Party — Yoneyama defeated a candidate backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito.
At his inaugural news conference, Yoneyama expressed his intention to “thoroughly investigate” the Fukushima crisis.
He referred to Tepco’s failure to quickly disclose the meltdowns at Fukushima No. 1, which a joint committee of the Niigata Prefectural Government and the company is currently investigating.
The matter will be “scrutinized to an extent at which guidelines to judge (nuclear plant) safety can be drawn up,” Yoneyama said, expressing his hope of hashing out a conclusion by the end of his four-year term.
He said he hopes to hold talks with the central government and Tepco soon on the possible restart. “It’s important to confirm each other’s positions,” he observed.
At a news conference in Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said there is no change in the central government’s policy of pursuing a restart of any reactor that has passed a Nuclear Regulation Authority safety examination.
“We hope to secure local support while listening sufficiently to the new governor,” Suga said.
The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture
In an upset, Ryuichi Yoneyama, a rookie candidate backed by the opposition Japanese Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Party, was elected governor of Niigata Prefecture on Oct. 16.
Yoneyama presented a tough stance toward the proposed restart of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in the prefecture, which was the main election issue.
He emerged victorious in a virtual one-on-one contest against Tamio Mori, a former mayor of Nagaoka in the prefecture, who was backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, Komeito.
The outcome could be called a manifestation of the public will that wants to halt the headlong way the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking to have Japan’s idled nuclear reactors brought back online.
The election highlighted the strong anxiety that Niigata Prefecture residents have concerning nuclear power.
Yoneyama said in his campaign pledge that he would not discuss the restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant unless the causes of the 2011 disaster at TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, its impact and the challenges it highlighted are scrutinized.
He has the responsibility to follow through on his promise and confront the central government and TEPCO, which are seeking to have the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa’s nuclear reactors brought back online, with a resolute attitude.
Hirohiko Izumida, the incumbent governor who has consistently taken a cautious stance toward a nuclear restart, did not seek re-election.
Attention was focused during the gubernatorial race on whether Izumida’s policy line would be succeeded. It was initially thought that Mori, a former head of the Japan Association of City Mayors who emphasized the connections he has with the central government, had an overwhelming advantage.
But Yoneyama, who announced his candidacy immediately before official campaigning started and asserted he would follow Izumida’s stance over the nuclear restart issue, turned out to have more pull.
An Asahi Shimbun survey of eligible voters in Niigata Prefecture found that, while only about 20 percent of the respondents said they approved the restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, more than 60 percent opposed it. Yoneyama was elected by that public opinion.
Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, where seven nuclear reactors are concentrated, is one of the world’s largest nuclear plants. A serious cover-up of technical problems there came to light in 2002. The Niigata Chuetsu-oki Earthquake of 2007 resulted in a fire and the leakage of a small amount of radioactive substances there. It stands to reason that many feel anxious about plant operations.
Izumida told the central government that plans for evacuating local residents in the event of a nuclear plant disaster are not covered by the screenings by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, and called for the central government’s Nuclear Emergency Response Guideline to be improved. He also used an expert panel of the prefectural government to pursue an independent investigation into the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The governor also questioned TEPCO’s delay in announcing that core meltdowns had occurred at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. That led to TEPCO’s acknowledgment this year of a cover-up.
One can say that Izumida has demonstrated that a prefectural governor can play various roles without leaving the safety of a nuclear plant up to the central government. The election results have shown that many residents of Niigata Prefecture want their governor to continue that stance.
The Abe administration, which defines nuclear energy as an important mainstay power source, is hoping to restart nuclear reactors that have passed NRA screenings. It also defines the restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant as an indispensable step for rehabilitating the embattled TEPCO, which has virtually become a government-owned entity.
The administration, however, should sincerely face up to the public will in Niigata Prefecture.
In Kagoshima Prefecture as well, the winner in a gubernatorial election this summer was a candidate who called for a nuclear plant in the southern prefecture to be taken temporarily offline.
It is the duty of top officials responsible for national politics to listen to the voices of the public.