Japan nuclear watchdog says two reactors at Tepco’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa to stay idle — for now

Nuclear watchdog cites lack of debate on Kashiwazaki-Kariwa units' safety

Kyodo, JIJI

The country’s atomic watchdog held off certifying the safety of two idle reactors at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture on Wednesday, citing a lack of debate on specific safety measures taken.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority had been expected to verify that the Nos. 6 and 7 reactors had passed stringent new safety requirements, but faced criticism over a lack of debate over whether Tepco, which also operates the wrecked Fukushima No. 1 site, is fit to run a nuclear power plant.

Before being rebooted, reactors must first clear the stiffer safety requirements introduced after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis. Tepco filed for safety assessments of the two Kashiwazaki-Kariwa units in September 2013.

Still, the embattled utility did come away with one win: The regulator reached a consensus that Tepco is fit to operate nuclear power plants.

This decision, however, came under the condition that the utility clearly state in its rules its determination to implement all new safety measures and that this is guaranteed by the industry minister.

Sources said that the regulator had planned to give the safety clearance while departing Chairman Shunichi Tanaka was still on board, but reversed course after criticism emerged over the lack of debate about Tepco’s qualifications.

Tanaka’s term expires on Sept. 18, although he will continue to work until Sept. 22.

The regulator decided during Wednesday’s meeting that Tepco should reference its resolve to ensure safety in operating nuclear plants in its safety rules. The utility will inform its president, Tomoaki Kobayakawa, of the matter.

During the summer, the watchdog questioned Tepco management, including Kobayakawa, over its awareness of nuclear safety issues.

In July, Tanaka criticized Tepco’s attitude, saying: “An operator, who cannot take concrete measures for decommissioning efforts of the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, does not have the right to resume operation of nuclear reactors.”

Tanaka urged the utility to submit a more thorough explanation in writing on issues such as how to deal with contaminated water.

While Tepco, in its subsequent written response, did not discuss the contaminated water issue, it did pledge to see the decommissioning process through to the end, gaining a certain level of understanding from the regulator.

Meanwhile, the prospect of gaining local consent needed for the two reactors’ restart remains uncertain, with Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama saying it could take “around three to four years” for the utility to win over locals.