Local trust missing as Tepco moves to restart world’s largest nuclear plant


Residents living near Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant feel the operator has not done enough to assure them of its safety. Nevertheless, the firm is rapidly pressing ahead with preparations to restart two reactors at the site.

It is the world’s biggest nuclear power station, with seven reactors that can put out a combined 8.21 million kilowatts. The plant straddles the city of Kashiwazaki and the village of Kariwa in Niigata Prefecture.

In September 2013, Tepco applied for Nuclear Regulation Authority safety checks on reactors No. 6 and No. 7 with a view to possible restarts.

Firing up the two reactors is seen as crucial for the rehabilitation of Tepco’s finances, hit hard by the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear disaster.

Plant staff acknowledge the damage done to public trust.

“I will never let such an accident happen here,” said Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant manager Tadayuki Yokomura.

Since the Fukushima crisis started, Tepco has spent ¥270 billion on additional safety measures for the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.

The plant’s seawall has been expanded and raised to a height of 15 meters above sea level, double the anticipated height of the largest tsunami in the event that a major earthquake strikes in the vicinity.

“At the time of the Fukushima No. 1 plant accident, then manager Masao Yoshida faced many problems, as preparations for reactor-cooling work had to be suspended for a possible tsunami after each aftershock,” Yokomura said. Expanding the seawall was based on lessons from the Fukushima debacle, he said.

Preparations have continued toward eventual restarts of the two reactors, each of which has an output of 1.35 million kilowatts.

Tepco has installed the main equipment for filtered vents. These are safety features that will allow pressure to be eased in a crisis without the release of radioactive steam into the atmosphere.

In late October, the company installed on unit No. 7 an additional filtering device that can remove gasified radioactive substances, which the main equipment cannot eliminate.

“Our safety measures can finally be seen,” Yokomura said.

But Tepco has a long way to go. Last month, it came to light that more than 1,000 power cables for safety equipment had been laid alongside other cables. Safety regulations require the two types to be separated.

“Can they really manage this complex nuclear plant?” asked Kashiwazaki Mayor Hiroshi Aida. “When such problems emerge one after another, our trust is affected.”

“We want all problems to be examined fully so nothing is missed,” said Yasuyoshi Kuwabara, head of a group of local residents that monitors the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.

Meanwhile, Tepco is struggling to regain the trust of locals. Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida said Tepco has not gathered the full picture of the Fukushima No. 1 disaster yet — and nor has it drawn sufficient lessons from it.