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Kashiwazaki - Restart or not restart?

June 17, 2013


TEPCO mulls putting off application to restart Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuke plant



Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) is mulling putting off its application for safety screening of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture until a plan to restart the plant gains local approval, it has been learned.

TEPCO started considering the postponement of its application with the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) on June 17, despite the utility's earlier plans to file the application for safety equipment screening even without approval from Niigata Prefecture. With the implementation of the new regulatory standards for nuclear plant safety set for early July, multiple power companies are expected to file screening applications with the NRA for resumption of their nuclear plants.

While TEPCO's turnaround is apparently aimed at avoiding fueling prefectural opposition through a hasty decision, the utility -- the operator of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant -- is highly likely to miss out on a chance to join the first batch of applicants for NRA screenings, which possibly include Kansai Electric Power Co. and Shikoku Electric Power Co.

For a power company to restart a nuclear plant, it needs to gain approval from local municipalities based on their safety accord after passing NRA screening on whether the facility conforms to the new standards. Previously, TEPCO had considered applying for safety screening right after the July implementation of the new standards while gaining local approval concurrently. Foundation work has already been under way to install filtered vent systems at the plant's No. 1 and No. 7 reactors -- a necessary step to restart the facility.

Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida, however, has voiced opposition to the plan, saying, "Verifications of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster should come first." On June 12, the governor insisted that TEPCO needs to gain prior approval from the prefecture and other entities to install the vent systems, saying, "Even though (filtered) vents are intended to reduce radioactive material emissions, they are inherently designed to emit such materials outside. There's no way the utility can win our trust without explaining how it is going to operate them."

Under the new standards, utilities can apply for safety screenings even if vent systems are not installed in time, as long as they are planning to install them. However, the Niigata Prefectural Government is certain to fiercely oppose such applications. If that is the case, a plan to restart the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa complex would further be delayed, prompting TEPCO to procrastinate its application with the NRA until it is expected to gain prior approval from the prefecture.

In its rehabilitation plan, TEPCO had envisaged improving its earnings by reactivating the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant as early as the start of fiscal 2013. Now that the utility is uncertain when to apply for safety screenings, its promise to financial institutions to turn itself profitable this fiscal year may need to be reviewed. While TEPCO raised electricity rates in September last year, the utility is likely to be forced to decide whether to further raise the rates to improve its earnings.

Since there is a limited capacity to NRA's screenings, a delay in applying for safety screenings means a further delay in restarting a nuclear plant.

June 17, 2013(Mainichi Japan)

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