National

Tepco bid to restart Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant stymied by governor

Bloomberg

Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s road back to becoming a nuclear power utility remains uncertain amid staunch local opposition to restarting the facility at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa in Niigata Prefecture.

The plant is the world’s biggest nuclear power facility.

Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida said after meeting regulators on Monday that the time isn’t right to consider whether the utility can restart the facility. While not enshrined in law, local government approval is traditionally sought by utilities before they bring atomic plants online.

The role of local government officials has become even more critical to the future of nuclear power in Japan since the Fukushima disaster in March 2011 bolstered opposition to the industry nationwide.

Izumida on Monday repeated his stance that a full probe is still needed into what went wrong at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, which was also operated by Tepco.

“It’s too early to discuss the restart of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa,” Izumida told reporters in Tokyo. “The restart is not even at the stage of discussion because review of the Fukushima accident is needed.”

The country’s return to nuclear power took a small step forward earlier this month when Kyushu Electric Power Co. resumed operations at its Sendai plant, the first to be restarted under tougher safety rules imposed after the Fukushima meltdowns.

Izumida, a vocal critic of Tepco, has chastised the company for putting profit ahead of safety and has called repeatedly for questions about the Fukushima disaster to be answered before he agrees to approve the restart of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa.

He met with Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) Chairman Shunichi Tanaka on Monday to demand the watchdog reinstate the use of an emergency response system known as SPEEDI.

The governor wants SPEEDI, used to predict the spread of radiation, to be part of local government planning for evacuations in case of accidents.

Tanaka repeated the NRA’s opposition. The NRA stopped using SPEEDI in October 2014, ruling that its predictions did not adequately eliminate exposure risk.

The system was not used when making evacuation decisions during the 2011 Fukushima crisis, although it was in place at the time.

The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa station has seven reactor units with a combined capacity of 8,212 megawatts, according to Tepco’s website.

The plant, the world’s largest nuclear power station by generating capacity, sits beside the Sea of Japan on the opposite coast of Honshu from Fukushima.