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.
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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.

7 Years On, 40 Pct of Fukushima Evacuees to Niigata Have No Plans to Return

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March 12, 2018
Niigata (Jiji Press)–Nearly 40 pct of evacuees from nuclear accident-hit Fukushima Prefecture to Niigata Prefecture have no plans to return to Fukushima, a Niigata government survey has shown.
 
According to the survey, 39.7 pct of respondents, including those who initially came to Niigata but moved out of the central Japan prefecture later, do not plan to return to Fukushima, home to Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
 
Including respondents unable to decide as yet whether or not to return, the proportion of evacuees who are not eager to go back home reached some 70 pct.
 
As reasons, worries about residual radiation’s health effects were cited by 60.6 pct, followed by concerns about children’s future and difficulties in finding jobs.
 
The survey results illustrate how it is difficult to rebuild people’s lives in nuclear disaster-hit areas, pundits said.
 

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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Mayor: TEPCO’s Niigata plant must close 5 reactors

hhkjm.jpgKashiwazaki Mayor Masahiro Sakurai, left, explains the city’s conditions for the restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant at a meeting with Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. President Tomoaki Kobayakawa at the city hall in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture, on July 25.

 

KASHIWAZAKI, Niigata Prefecture–Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s hopes of a phased restart of all of the reactors at its nuclear power plant here to save on fuel costs faces a new obstacle in the form of the local mayor.

Mayor Masahiro Sakurai said July 25 he will agree to the restart of two reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, but on the condition that TEPCO “presents a plan to decommission the remaining five in two years.”

The demand was made in the mayor’s first meeting with TEPCO’s new president, Tomoaki Kobayakawa. Sakurai handed over a document listing the city’s conditions for a restart.

In response, Kobayakawa merely said, “We should exchange opinions further.”

The plant, which is located in Kashiwazaki and neighboring Kariwa, is one of the world’s largest nuclear power stations, with seven nuclear reactors.

All the reactors are offline now.

But TEPCO plans to reactivate the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors, the two newest units, as early as fiscal 2019 after they are certified by the Nuclear Regulation Authority as meeting more stringent safety regulations put in place after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. The company wants to restart the rest in stages.

Restarting the facility is crucial to the company’s bottom line as it needs to secure a treasure chest to finance the enormous cost of decommissioning the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and paying compensation to victims.

At the meeting, Sakurai expressed “strong doubts about the corporate culture that governs TEPCO.”

He referred to revelations that surfaced in February about the poor quake-resistance of an emergency response center at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant. It emerged that the center was capable of withstanding less than half of the strongest shaking of a very major earthquake projected to strike the facility.

The company became aware of the startling finding when it reassessed the fitness of the emergency response center in 2014, but it did not report the matter to the NRA.

The emergency response center was completed in 2009 after the Niigata Chuetsu-oki Earthquake of 2007, in which the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant was damaged.

Considering the risks, operating seven reactors in one place is too many,” Sakurai said.

Sakurai was elected mayor for the first time in November 2016 after running on a platform of agreeing to restarts with conditions.

He envisages that the decommissioning of even one of the oldest five reactors will lead to job opportunities for local workers and promotion of local industry.

The No. 1 through No. 5 reactors went into service between 1985 and 1994.

After the meeting, the mayor told reporters that his demand for closing down the old reactors is reasonable.

The No. 1 to No. 5 reactors are old, and some of them have remained offline since the Niigata Chuetsu-oki Earthquake,” he said. “The utility will need sufficient funds to safeguard such reactors if they are reactivated. I believe it can show us a plan for decommissioning within two years.”

Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama could prove a more formidable obstacle to the plant operator.

The governor met with Kobayakawa and TEPCO’s new chairman, Takashi Kawamura, on the same day for the first time, reiterating his strong opposition to restarts.

We cannot start discussing the restart of the plant unless a review of the safety of the plant is completed,” Yoneyama said.

Although governors do not have the legal authority to stop reactor restarts, it has been a protocol to reactivate a plant after gaining their consent.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201707260037.html

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