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Trust TEPCO again?

September 7, 2017



NRA doubts TEPCO’s safety vow in Niigata, plans legal move





The Nuclear Regulation Authority, skeptical of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s promise to put safety ahead of profits, plans to gain legal assurances before allowing the embattled utility to start operating nuclear reactors again.


TEPCO has applied to restart two reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture, which would be the first run by the company since the disaster unfolded at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March 2011.


Although NRA members agreed that the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant passed new regulations on technological aspects, they could not agree on whether the company has learned its lessons about safety management since the triple meltdown at the Fukushima plant.


To ensure TEPCO will put safety at the forefront of its operations, the NRA is considering holding the utility legally responsible for completing the entire decommissioning process of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.


The regulator expects to draft a checklist to verify the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant’s safety and other steps before it makes a final decision on whether to allow TEPCO to restart the reactors. The next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 13.


The NRA had previously determined that 12 reactors at six nuclear plants met new nuclear reactor regulations shortly after completion of their technological examinations.


The NRA also finished its technological examinations of the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors, the newest ones at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.


The plant has seven reactors, making it one of the largest nuclear power stations in the world. The two reactors that TEPCO wants to put online each has a capacity of 1.36 gigawatts.


TEPCO has said the resumption of the reactors are needed to turn around its business fortunes.


But NRA commissioners are reluctant to allow TEPCO to bring the plant online based solely on the results of the technological screening.


After the chairman and president of the utility were replaced in June, the NRA summoned the new top executives in July.


The watchdog demanded that they give a written response to the regulator’s position that TEPCO “is not qualified to operate the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, given the seeming lack of determination and spotty track record to take the initiative in decommissioning (the Fukushima No. 1 plant).”


In August, the company submitted a paper to the NRA promising to “take the initiative in addressing the problem of victims of the nuclear disaster and to fulfill the task to decommission the plant.”


The paper also said the company “has no intention whatsoever to place economic performance over safety at the (Kashiwazaki-Kariwa) plant.”


Tomoaki Kobayakawa, the new president of TEPCO, called the paper a “promise to the public.”


Although the NRA commissioners on Sept. 6 recognized TEPCO’s commitment to safety to a certain degree, doubts remained.


Nobuhiko Ban, an NRA member who is a specialist on radiological protection, called for a system that would keep TEPCO committed to safety management in the future.


“Is it all right for us to take TEPCO’s vow at face value?” he said.


The NRA then decided to consider legal ways to hold TEPCO accountable for safety issues.



TEPCO's Niigata nuclear plant set to clear screening to restart reactors



September 6, 2017 (Mainichi Japan)


The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) looks set to grant permission for Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) to restart the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Niigata Prefecture, it has been learned.

At a meeting on Sept. 6, the NRA discussed whether or not TEPCO is fit to restart the plant -- with none of the meeting attendees ruling out the firm's eligibility. The technical screening process has almost finished, and the nuclear watchdog is set to compile a report stating that TEPCO has met the new safety standards.


This is the first time that TEPCO, which was behind the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in 2011, has been forecasted to clear the new standards for nuclear power plants. In addition, it is set to be the first time for boiling water reactors, like the ones at Fukushima, to meet the necessary criteria.


For TEPCO, the restarting of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant is a key way to recover earnings. However, Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama wants to put priority on verifying the cause of the Fukushima disaster first, before giving a green light to the restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant. According to Yoneyama, the verification process will take "three to four years," and therefore, the utility cannot expect an early restart, even if the reactors clear the NRA screening process.


In September 2013, TEPCO applied to have No. 6 and No. 7 reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant screened under the new standards. Consequently, the NRA set about checking the application intensively -- recognizing this as the model for boiling water reactor screenings.


During the screening process, multiple changes were made to given conditions such as the possibility of ground liquefaction in costal levees at the plant. Furthermore, it emerged in February this year that TEPCO had submitted false reports to the NRA about a quake-proof building, which would be used as the command and control hub in case of an accident, even though company officials knew that the building was insufficiently earthquake resistant. As a result, the NRA summoned then TEPCO President Naomi Hirose, and asked him to overhaul the screening application form. Hirose complied and TEPCO resubmitted the form in June.

While conducting the screening, the NRA focused on the fact that TEPCO had caused a major accident (in 2011), and demanded that TEPCO submit its thoughts regarding plant safety, as well as its approach toward decommissioning the Fukushima plant.


The NRA also interviewed senior TEPCO executives including President Tomoaki Kobayakawa, twice, in what can be regarded as a much more stringent screening process than for any other nuclear plant.


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