KASHIWAZAKI, NIIGATA PREF. – Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida declined Friday to give his consent to Tepco’s plan to restart two of the seven reactors at the world’s largest nuclear power plant.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. President Naomi Hirose went to Niigata to tell local leaders about the utility’s plan to apply for a government safety assessment of reactors 6 and 7 at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant as a step toward bringing them back online.
After meetings with the mayors of the two municipalities that host the facility, Hirose said he “obtained consent to some extent.”
But he also faced criticism for not offering any explanation to the people living in the area before publicly announcing the company’s plan to file for the assessment.
“It is very unfortunate that (Tepco) decided to apply (for the safety assessment) without any explanation,” Kashiwazaki Mayor Hiro Aida said. “It may damage the trusting relationship.”
The meetings were arranged after local leaders expressed discontent over Tepco’s move. It was the first time high-level Tepco executives have met with Niigata leaders over the resumption of reactors since the Fukushima catastrophe broke out in March 2011.
Kariwa Mayor Hiroo Shinada said he will deal with Tepco’s plan in a “level-headed manner and make an appropriate judgment.”
Tepco wants to reactivate the reactors to reduce its spending on costly fuel for thermal power generation.
Tepco has three nuclear plants, but the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa complex — the world’s largest with a combined output capacity of 8.2 million kw — is the only one that wasn’t directly affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
When new nuclear regulations take effect Monday, the Nuclear Regulation Authority will start accepting applications to conduct safety assessments. Passing the assessment will be a requirement for restarting reactors. All but two of Japan’s commercial units are offline due to safety concerns in the wake of Fukushima.
Tepco plans to install a safety system that involves fitting reactor systems with vents and filters that can reduce the amount of radioactive substances emitted when pressure needs to be released during an emergency. Plant operators are obliged to install the equipment under the new nuclear regulations.
Izumida also requested detailed explanations on the venting operations that took place during the crisis at Fukushima No. 1. The reactors there had venting systems but not with radiation-screening filters.
“Even if radioactive substances will be reduced, it is still equipment that releases (radioactive material) outside,” Izumida said in a document addressed to Hirose.
Under the current legal framework, utilities can restart their reactors once the NRA confirms their safety. But the central government has acknowledged that local approval is important to bring reactors back online.
NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka told a news conference Thursday that he doesn’t think restarting the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors will be easy, given Izumida’s stance.
But Tanaka declared that the safety assessments will be carried out “as swiftly as possible from a scientific and technological viewpoint, without taking into account such external conditions.”
The Niigata plant was halted and damaged by a quake in 2007.
Four utilities to apply
Four power companies said Friday they plan to apply Monday for regulatory safety checks on their nuclear reactors, aiming to bring them back online as soon as possible.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority asked power utilities to come forward by 3 p.m. Friday if they plan to apply Monday, when new nuclear safety standards take effect.
The companies hope to improve their finances by getting reactors back online and reducing their spending on fuel for thermal power generation.
The four plan to apply for checks for as many as 12 reactors at six plants across Japan.
They include all three reactors at Hokkaido Electric Power Co.’s Tomari plant in Hokkaido, reactors 3 and 4 at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama plant and reactors 3 and 4 at its Oi plant, both in Fukui Prefecture. Kepco’s Oi reactors 3 and 4 are the only ones running in Japan at present, but they are slated to go offline for inspections this fall.
Shikoku Electric Power Co. plans to apply for checks on reactor 3 at its Ikata plant in Ehime Prefecture, while Kyushu Electric Power Co. is set to do so for reactors 1 and 2 at its Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture.
Kyushu Electric also plans to file applications for reactors 3 and 4 at its Genkai plant in Saga Prefecture next Friday.
Requirements under the new safety standards include the construction of seawalls high enough to stop tsunami and quake-proof buildings to be used as emergency response bases in a crisis.
Three teams from the NRA will check each reactor. It is unclear how long the checks will take, but it may be about six months.
Even if the safety checks go smoothly, no reactors are expected to be restarted until this winter at the earliest, because local approval will be necessary.
The 12 reactors that the four companies aim to restart early have a total power output capacity of 11.2 million kw.