Two Tokyo Electric reactors at the massive Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power station in Niigata Prefecture are expected to clear the initial safety hurdle for restarts soon, sources said Friday.
According to the sources, the Nuclear Regulation Authority will start talks on the issue on Wednesday, with a view to compiling a document that will certify the two units passed the new safety requirements introduced after the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. has been struggling to recover ever since the triple core meltdown in March 2011 because the seven-reactor Niigata plant is a crucial money maker. The utility has spent years trying to restart the plant, which is the only nuclear complex it runs aside from the disaster-hit Fukushima No. 1 plant in Fukushima Prefecture.
It filed for safety assessments for reactor Nos. 6 and 7 in September 2013.
The NRA wants to reach a conclusion on the issue before Chairman Shunichi Tanaka’s five-year term expires on Sept. 18, the sources said. But the move may trigger public criticism because Tepco still has a long way to go to scrap the ruined reactors at Fukushima No. 1, which was engulfed by quake-triggered tsunami and lost all power.
The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa complex is one of the world’s largest nuclear power plants and has an output capacity of 8.2 million kilowatts. Units 6 and 7 are boiling water reactors — the same type as the ones at Fukushima No. 1 — and the newest of the seven sitting along the Sea of Japan coast.
The governments hosting the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant are also cautious about restarting the units, with Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama saying it will take “around three to four years” for the utility to win local consent on the matter.
Tepco, which is facing massive compensation payments and other costs from dealing with the world’s worst nuclear crises since Chernobyl, has been desperate to restart the idled reactors so it can reduce spending on costly fossil fuel imports needed to run the thermal power plants making up for the nationwide nuclear shutdowns.
Some reactors at other utilities have already resumed operations, but Tepco has been under constant scrutiny to determine whether it is qualified to once again operate a nuclear power plant.
Some inside the NRA have been reluctant to move ahead with the safety review at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa. But Tanaka strongly wants to set a course on the issue before he leaves his position at the NRA, and this was one of the factors that led to the latest development in Niigata, the sources said.