KASHIWAZAKI, NIIGATA PREF. – Seven years have passed since the massive Chuetsu Offshore Earthquake hit Niigata Prefecture, but residents around Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant still worry about how safe it is.
When the magnitude-6.8 quake struck on July 16, 2007, a transformer at the nuclear plant caught fire and a tiny amount of radioactive substances leaked out.
The plant — the largest nuclear facility in the world — generated no power until four of its seven reactors were brought back online starting in 2009. They were deactivated again for regular inspections and maintenance, and been idle since the Fukushima crisis erupted in 2011.
Ahead of the restart of the reactors, Tepco has applied for safety checks by the Nuclear Regulation Authority. But Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida has maintained a cautious stance, saying, “It’s too early to get the reactors back online.”
A local organization comprising residents, commerce and industry associations and a citizens’ group in the city of Kashiwazaki and the village of Kariwa visited the plant in June and were briefed by Tepco officials on safety measures.
Putting aside the broad issue of whether to allow nuclear power generation, the group regularly holds discussions with Tepco on the plant’s safety using data provided by the company and the government.
During the group’s visit, Tepco officials tried to win their consent to the restart by stressing that new breakwaters have been built, vehicles with generators and firetrucks have been added, and employees have undergone enhanced training.
Masayuki Sato, the 70-year-old deputy chief of the group, was not won over.
“Although various response measures seem to have been taken, it is hard to predict what kind of disaster will happen,” he said. “No one could (have) forecast the 2007 quake.”
Group chief Yoshiko Arano, 63, however, said she liked some of Tepco’s changes.
“Though it has yet to be seen whether the (anti-earthquake) facilities introduced at the plant can really work, the company’s efforts are clearly seen,” she said.
Asked about his view on restarting the plant, Gov. Izumida always replies that it should come after the Fukushima accident has been fully examined.
After the 2007 temblor, the Niigata Prefectural Government temporarily lost contact with the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant’s control room because a damaged door blocked workers from entering.
The prefecture pointed out problems concerning the emergency liaison system at the time of the quake during a meeting with the industry ministry about two weeks later.
In March this year, Izumida told a local disaster prevention meeting that unless the prefectural government highlighted the problems, the Fukushima No. 1 plant would have had no earthquake-proof office, which served as the base to cope with the accident.
“I will keep insisting that it is essential to review Fukushima accident-related problems as problems common to all humankind and take countermeasures,” Izumida said.