Nuclear watchdog OKs restart of aging nuclear plant hit by tsunami
Nuclear watchdog OKs restart of aging tsunami-hit Tokai nuclear plant
TEPCO, which responded so badly to the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear disaster, has won approval from Japan’s nuclear reactor to crank back up the world’s biggest nuclear power plant.
The word “nuclear” has a lot more power in Japan than it does elsewhere.
Tokyo Electric Power, or TEPCO (TKECY) as it is better known, has just won approval to re-start two reactors at the world’s largest nuclear power plant. Its shares got a jolt of 3% at that announcement.
Nuclear-linked stocks will be worth watching as the company pushes on with that attempt. TEPCO is, after all, the company that responded so badly to the disaster at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant in 2011.
The only country to have been hit by an atom bomb nevertheless embraced the technology behind nuclear power. Around one-fifth of all electricity is intended to be produced that way.
Then came the disaster at Fukushima. The March 2011 earthquake unleashed a tidal wave that ultimately killed 15,894 people, causing ¥21.5 trillion ($191 billion) in damage. Only the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in Ukraine was worse.
The tsunami deluged the nuclear reactors at Fukushima, and three of them melted down. That shined a spotlight on the inept operations and response of TEPCO, which ran the plant.
The company was terrible at responding to the disaster and even worse at responding to the public. Its executives went into shutdown mode, as Asian companies are wont to do. It denied facts that turned out to be true, downplayed the impact and generally pretended that there’s nothing to see here, we’ve got it all under control, please move along.
So it’s amazing that it’s back in big-time nuclear business. Most recently, Japan’s nuclear regulator, the Nuclear Regulation Authority, has granted TEPCO initial safety approval to restart two reactors, six and seven, at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, the world’s largest.
The five NRA commissioners voted unanimously for permission to crank the reactors back up. Formal approval will likely go ahead after a 30-day period for public comment.
The governor of Niigata prefecture, where that plant is based, says he won’t consider allowing the plant to run again until the prefecture conducts its own review of what went on at Fukushima, and that won’t happen until 2020 at the earliest.
Opinion polls show that a majority of the Japanese public now opposes nuclear power and would ultimately like Japan to cease producing it. It’s likely that nuclear power will come up as an issue in the Japanese election, slated for Oct. 22.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe believes nuclear power is a viable and stable source of energy. His Liberal Democratic Party wants to see more of Japan’s nuclear reactors put back to work.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, a former defense minister in the Abe government, has formed a conservative party to rival Abe’s conservative government. Although she says she won’t run for prime minister, her Kibo no To, or Party of Hope, will contest many of the seats up for grabs.
Nuclear power is intended to produce around 22% of Japan’s electricity if all its plants are operating. Government plans call for another 27% to come from liquefied natural gas, around 23% from renewable sources, and only 26% from coal.
All 42 of Japan’s nuclear reactors were ordered to shut down in 2011.
Kyushu Electric Power (KYSEY) was the first company to fire back up a nuclear plant after the 2011 quake, on the island of the same name in the city of Sendai. That’s part of Japan’s industrial heartland.
Kansai Electric Power (KAEPY) was last week granted permission from the mayor of Ohi, in Fukui Prefecture, to re-start two reactors there. The company had applied in August for permission to do so, from Japan’s nuclear regulator, the Nuclear Regulation Authority.
Meanwhile, TEPCO continues the cleanup of the mess at Fukushima. It has delayed the removal of used nuclear rods from fuel pools at the plant. It shifted fuel removal from 2017 to 2018 at the safest of the reactors, and from 2020 to 2023 for another two.
It also has to mop up about 770,000 tons of contaminated water that was pumped into the plant to cool the melted fuel reactors. That’s due to be cleaned out of around 580 tanks where it is stored on site by 2020 – the same year that Tokyo will host the Olympics.
TOKYO (Kyodo) — Japan’s nuclear safety watchdog on Wednesday deferred giving safety clearance for two idle Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. reactors on the Sea of Japan coast, although its chairman said the utility was “qualified” as a nuclear plant operator.
Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said following Wednesday’s meeting that Tepco, operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, was qualified but needs to stipulate its resolve to ensure safe operation of nuclear plants in its safety rules.
“It’s insecure” if Tepco expresses its resolve to ensure safety only in words, Tanaka told a press conference.
Safety rules need to be approved by the regulator and if there is a grave violation the regulator can demand that the utility halt nuclear power operations.
The regulator will formally inform the utility’s president, Tomoaki Kobayakawa, about the matter on Sept. 20. A final decision on whether Tepco is fit to be an operator will be made following discussions with the economy, trade and industry minister.
If Tepco agrees to include its resolve to ensure safety in its safety rules, the regulator will compile a draft document for the Nos. 6 and 7 reactors at Tepco’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture that will serve as certification that the utility has satisfied new safety requirements implemented since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The regulator had been expected at Wednesday’s meeting to confirm that the units have cleared the new safety requirements, but it reversed course after facing criticism over a lack of debate on whether the operator is fit to run a nuclear power plant.
For a reactor to be restarted, it first needs to clear the stiffer safety requirements introduced in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, which was triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. Tepco filed for safety assessments of the two units in September 2013.
According to sources close to the matter, the regulator had planned to give safety clearance while Tanaka was still on the board. Tanaka’s term expires on Sept. 18, although he will continue to work until Sept. 22.
The regulator had reached a near consensus on the issue of Tepco’s qualification when its members previously met on Sept. 6.
During the summer, the regulator questioned the Tepco management, including Kobayakawa, about its nuclear safety awareness. In July, Tanaka criticized Tepco’s attitude, saying, “An operator, which cannot take concrete measures for decommissioning efforts at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, does not have the right to resume operation of nuclear reactors.”
Tanaka urged the utility to further explain in writing issues such as how to deal with contaminated water at the Fukushima plant.
While Tepco, in its subsequent written response, did not give details about what it would do regarding the contaminated water, it did pledge to see through the scrapping of the plant, gaining a certain level of understanding from the regulator.
Meanwhile, the prospect of gaining local consent needed for the restart of the two reactors remains uncertain, with Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama saying it will take “around three to four years” for the utility to win local consent for the envisioned restart.
The nation’s nuclear watchdog gave conditional approval Sept. 13 to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s application to resume operations of its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant.
It marks the first time that reactors operated by TEPCO, which manages the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, have passed more stringent reactor regulations imposed by the Nuclear Regulation Authority after the triple meltdown in 2011.
The two reactors at the plant in Niigata Prefecture–the No. 6 and No. 7 units–are the first boiling-water reactors in Japan to clear the regulations. They are the same type as the reactors at the Fukushima plant.
The NRA already accepts that TEPCO has the technological know-how to operate the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, one of the world’s largest.
But it had harbored doubts about the company’s fitness to operate a nuclear plant, given its tendency to put its balance sheet ahead of safety precautions.
The NRA ordered TEPCO to provide in the legally required safety code a detailed explanation of procedures it will take to ensure that the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant is operated safely.
That way, the watchdog body aims to make the utility legally accountable if problems arise.
It will also closely monitor the utility’s actions in adhering to the safety code once the NRA approves the measures proposed by TEPCO.
The NRA will summon Tomoaki Kobayakawa, the new president of TEPCO, to request a more demanding safety code from the company.
As another condition for a restart, the NRA called for the industry ministry’s clear-cut commitment to oversee TEPCO’s compliance with safety if it is satisfied with the utility’s pledge to respond appropriately to the decommissioning of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. The industry ministry oversees the nuclear industry.
Despite the NRA’s conditional approval, the utility will need to gain consent from local governments for a restart.
Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama, who took office last year, has made it clear that he will not agree to the restart until the prefectural government completes its investigation into the Fukushima nuclear disaster to determine what went wrong. The investigation is expected to take several years.
In an effort to underscore its eligibility as an operator of a nuclear plant, TEPCO submitted a written pledge in August that it is “determined to take the initiative in addressing the needs of victims in Fukushima Prefecture and accomplish the decommissioning of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.”
If the safety code and the industry minister’s commitment are secured, the NRA concluded that the utility will be eligible to resume operations of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.
Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the NRA, said at the Sept. 13 meeting that TEPCO’s vow in August is “binding.”
The NRA indicated that if TEPCO fails to adhere to its “promise” to heed to safety, it will exercise the power to suspend the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant’s operations or revoke its license to operate it.
The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant has seven reactors. The No. 6 reactor and the No. 7 reactor started operations in 1996 and 1997, respectively. Each has a capacity of 1.36 gigawatts.