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Kashiwazaki-Kariwa OK'ed but restart might take years

December 27, 2017



Tepco nuclear reactors pass safety review, 1st after Fukushima crisis




TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Two reactors Japan were cleared for reactivation by the nuclear regulator on Wednesday, becoming the first run by the operator of the crippled Fukushima power plant to formally clear stricter government safety standards imposed after the 2011 crisis.


The Nuclear Regulation Authority endorsed safety measures for the Nos. 6 and 7 reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power plant in Niigata Prefecture at a meeting that was open to the public, with some members of the audience shouting their disapproval. The decision paves the way for the restart of the two reactors by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., known as Tepco.


However, the process of reactivating the reactors straddling the municipalities of Kashiwazaki and Kariwa in Niigata on the Sea of Japan coast could still take several more years as local governments need to give their consent.


Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama, who has said it will take "at least three to four years" before he can decide on whether to approve the restart of the reactors, issued a statement saying he wants to be briefed on the plan and "examine the outcome of (the NRA) review."


The two units are boiling water reactors, the same as those that suffered meltdowns during the Fukushima crisis triggered by the massive March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan. No BWRs had previously cleared Japan's tougher safety standards imposed after the disaster, partly because major refurbishments are required for added safety.


The NRA's approval of the two units brings the total number of reactors that have cleared the post-crisis safety regulations to 14, with the Japanese government pushing to restart nuclear plants that were taken offline after the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi complex, the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.


In addition to assessing the usual technical requirements, the NRA focused on whether Tepco is qualified to operate a nuclear power plant, as it continues to struggle with scrapping the Fukushima Daiichi complex -- an effort expected to take until around 2051 -- and dealing with contaminated water at the plant where radiation levels remain high.


Of around 800 public comments received by the regulator regarding its assessment of the Tepco reactors, about half of them questioned Tepco's qualification to run nuclear plants, according to the NRA.


At Wednesday's meeting, some of the members of the public voiced opposition, with one person saying, "It is not a technical or scientific assessment, but a political one."

In front of the building housing the NRA in Tokyo, civic group members gathered to protest the approval.


Yoshinari Usui, a forgmer public official from Kawasaki near Tokyo, said, "Tepco has no technical qualifications to run a nuclear power plant after causing such an accident. The restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa units is totally unacceptable."


Han Kumata, 37, from Tokyo said, "I have absolutely no trust in Tepco even if it says it has implemented safety measures."


As a condition for gaining safety clearance, Tepco agreed to a request from the regulator to provide a safety pledge in its legally binding plant operation program.


The NRA says it can continue to monitor Tepco by conducting inspections and order the halt of operations if it finds any safety violations.


Facing huge compensation payments and other costs stemming from the Fukushima crisis, Tepco has been keen to resume operation of its reactors to reduce dependence on costly fossil fuel imports for non-nuclear thermal power generation.


Not all residents of Niigata oppose nuclear power, given its economic benefits.


"There may be risks but the local (municipality) cannot stand without nuclear power. I want the reactors to be restarted if they have been deemed safe," said Toru Murata from Kashiwazaki, who works in the construction industry.


A Niigata city resident Mie Kuwabara, 69, on the other hand expressed concern about the reactors coming back online, saying, "I think the possibility of a serious accident still remains," considering past problems at the plant including insufficient quake resistance of a building to be used as an emergency headquarters.


The two reactors are the newest among the seven units at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant. The complex is one of the world's largest nuclear power plants, with a combined output capacity of 8.2 million kilowatts.




TEPCO reactors in Niigata OK’d, but restarts may still take years





Japan’s nuclear watchdog approved safety standards at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture, but the governor wants answers about the 2011 Fukushima disaster before the company can restart any reactor.


After questioning TEPCO’s commitment to safety, the Nuclear Regulation Authority on Dec. 27 gave its stamp of approval for the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.


It was the NRA’s first approval of boiling-water reactors since the 2011 accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which operated the same type of reactor.


However, the Niigata prefectural government is unlikely to approve the reactor restarts at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant until three or four years down the road.


Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama, whose approval is required for the resumption of reactor operations, has stated that he would not make a decision until the prefectural government completes its own assessment of the Fukushima nuclear accident.


Members of the public have also vehemently opposed allowing TEPCO to operate nuclear facilities.


Doubts were raised within the NRA on whether TEPCO was fit as a company to run a nuclear plant, considering the scale of the disaster in Fukushima Prefecture.


NRA officials in July asked TEPCO executives to appear at a meeting and explain their attitude toward safety.


In August, TEPCO submitted a document to the NRA that said in part: “We are prepared to go through with decommissioning the reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant. We will not place priority on economic interests over safety.”


The NRA compiled its draft inspection document in October. NRA officials said they will confirm TEPCO’s safety stance during screening of more specific measures designed for safety, which include an explanation of plant operating procedures.


The nuclear watchdog allowed the public to submit their views on the inspection document over a 30-day period.


At the NRA meeting on Dec. 27, 904 views were made public.


NRA officials said several hundred opinions were opposed to having TEPCO resume operations at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant. Some argued that the utility had not improved its corporate posture. Others said the inspection document contained little in the way of specific plans for how TEPCO would go about ensuring safety.


But the NRA approved the document on the grounds that it would still have the opportunity to judge TEPCO’s fitness during the safety screening. The utility will submit specific safety measures as the next step in the process toward resuming operations of the two reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.


(This article was written by Yusuke Ogawa and Masanobu Higashiyama.)


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