Tepco seeks foreign seal of approval to restart nuclear plant



Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s invitation to the world’s top nuclear agency to review the safety of its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa facility signals the utility’s desire to win international backing to resume operations at the world’s largest atomic power plant.

Kashiwazaki is Tepco’s best bet of returning to nuclear power generation, after the plant was shuttered along with the rest of Japan’s nuclear capacity following the unprecedented meltdowns at the company’s Fukushima No. 1 plant in 2011.

Firing up its reactors would boost Tepco’s profit by as much as ¥32 billion a month, according to Tepco spokesman Tatsuhiro Yamagishi.

“They want a foreign seal of approval,” said Robert Dujarric, a director at the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies of Temple University in Tokyo. “No one trusts what Tepco says. The only way they can convince Japanese residents that this is not risky is to get a foreign institution to certify them being acceptable.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency began its 11-day evaluation on Tuesday and will report its findings to Japan’s watchdog, the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which has the final say on a plant’s safety. A restart would still need local government approval, which presents difficulties as the region’s governor remains a vociferous critic of Tepco.

Tepco expects to spend at least ¥270 billion to bring Kashiwazaki back online, although it says the cost is a secondary consideration. What is needed and what the IAEA brings is the “knowledge, ingenuity, and engineering capabilities to get there,” Takafumi Anegawa, Tepco’s chief nuclear officer, told a news conference at the plant on Tuesday. “Randomly spending money doesn’t assure safety.”

The NRA has visited Kashiwazaki three times since agreeing to check its reactors in 2013, although it has not given a timeline for approval, according to Tepco’s Yamagishi. NRA spokesman Taro Komine declined to comment on Kashiwazaki and the IAEA’s safety study there.

The IAEA was created in 1957 and one of its goals is to promote the safe use of nuclear energy. Tepco, meanwhile, is struggling to convince the Japanese public of improvements in its attitudes to safety amid worker deaths and irradiated water leaks at the ruined Fukushima plant.

“Of course Tepco would like them to come online,” Tom O’Sullivan, founder of Tokyo-based energy consultant Mathyos, said by email. However, “I have normally categorized it as a plant that is extremely unlikely to come online. There is huge local opposition.”

Hirohiko Izumida, three-term governor of Niigata Prefecture where the plant is located, has said restarting Kashiwazaki shouldn’t even be considered until Tepco’s safety record and handling of Fukushima are properly reviewed.

Niigata Prefecture spokesman Kenji Kiuchi declined to comment on the governor’s opinion of the IAEA review.

Restarting Kashiwazaki would boost Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan for nuclear energy to account for as much as 22 percent of the country’s total electricity supply by 2030.

Thus far, Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai reactors are the only ones to pass the NRA’s safety requirements and clear local courts. Kyushu is aiming to restart the two units this year. While the NRA judged two reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama station as safe, legal hurdles have since obstructed any restart.

Tepco is seeking to restore two of the seven reactors at Kashiwazaki, which is located about 220 km northwest of Tokyo on coast of the Sea of Japan. Its only other nuclear plants are Fukushima No. 1, which is being decommissioned, and the nearby Fukushima No. 2 facility, which may be too tainted by its association with the 2011 disaster to ever restart.

In order to ensure Kashizawaki’s safety, Tepco says it has bolstered staff levels, built a 15 meter flood-prevention wall, and built a reservoir to store 20,000 tons of water to cool reactors in case of pump failures.

The IAEA said its primary focus will be assessing the plant’s internal operations. Three months after its review, the agency will send its report to Tepco, the NRA and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

The review will not replace Japan’s regulatory process, said Peter Tarren, the IAEA’s team leader at Kashiwazaki. “Decisions about restarts of the plant are not the authority of the IAEA,” he said.

  • Bradley Fried

    TEPCO should never be allowed to operate a nuclear facility ever again. Their incompetence, greed, corruption, and overt pattern of lying to the public and regulator have not changed since the Fukushima disaster began. Remember there are still over 100,000 people they rendered homeless through their mismanagement of Fukushima Daiichi that they have not yet made whole financially and who may never be able to return home. They should be broken up and the pieces sold off to the highest bidder.

    • isat2015

      taxpayers are paying all running operation to clean the mess of this “was before a full private company” and what do they get ? Raising price and more corruption + ton of radioactive waste. To the Japanese govt. Stop make us accomplice of this company by being shareholders, tapayers do not want to be part of this and taxpayers want the TEPCO monopoly to stop in Kanto, this is not normal in 2016 to have only 1 provider in this area.

  • prothopectore

    Theodore Roosevelt, 26th US President: “Behind the ostensible
    government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and
    acknowledging no responsibility to the people.”

    Benjamin Disraeli, first Prime Minister of England stated in 1844:
    “The world is governed by very different personages from what is imagined
    by those who are not behind the scenes.”

    President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a letter dated November 21, 1933:
    “The real truth of the matter is, as you and I know, that a financial element
    in the large centers has owned the government of the U.S. since the days of
    Andrew Jackson.”

    John F. Hylan, Mayor of New York, 1918-1925: “The real menace of our
    Republic is the invisible government which like a giant octopus sprawls its
    slimy legs over our cities, states and nation.”

    U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter: “The real rulers in
    Washington are invisible and exercise power from behind the scenes.”

  • After Fukushima and the mass displacement of local residents, shouldn’t this be the only thing that matters?? —> “A restart would still need local government approval, which presents
    difficulties as the region’s governor remains a vociferous critic of

  • Starviking

    I have to hope that common sense wins: restarts for Kashiwazaki-Kariwa!

  • Den of the Chaldes

    ThThis nuclear clown car is going to wind up killing us all!

  • Timothy Milhomme

    Before the shutdown the company seems to be making enough money to have had FUKU fixed already but according to them they didn’t. And on top of that say that the released rad wasn’t their responsibility . Sounds like B/S we get from American politicians. Greedy lying traitors to their own people

  • jimhopf

    A lot of concern (expressed by commenters) about people who’ve had to move, as a result of the first ever release of significant pollution by the worldwide, non-Soviet nuclear power industry, after 50 years of operation. Meanwhile, a relative lack of concern about the several hundred thousand deaths *annually* (worldwide) from fossil fueled power generation, not to mention global warming. You know, the same fossil fueled generation Japan has been (indefensibly) using instead of nuclear since the accident.

    What’s worse, having to move, or dying? Oh, and the rising sea levels and other impacts from global warming will cause a whole lot more people than that to have to move, etc..

    Japan’s increased use of fossil fuels in the few years since the accident has killed more people and had a larger public health impact than the accident itself. The economic cost of using those imported fossil fuels has also already exceeded the total eventual costs of the nuclear accident (plant decommissioning, cleanup, public compensation, etc…).

    Give the plant to another company if you must, but it is imperative that the K-K plant, as well as the rest of Japan’s nukes, be restarted as soon as possible. Keeping them closed is having an unacceptable public health *and* economic impact.

    One final thing, it’s amazing the relentless attention given to the nuclear accident evacuees, and the relative lack of attention given to the much larger number of evacuees created by the earthquake and tsunami itself, who have received far worse treatment and far less compensation. Not to mention the ~20,000 actual deaths (vs. none from the nuclear accident). People fail to realize the extent to which this is all political.

    • mooney7

      You drink too much koolaid.

  • Tosheba

    Isn’t this kind of like “asking your neighbor down the street” if it’s okay to beat your husband to a bloody pulp?