National

Tepco to make legal safety vow as it seeks restart of reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant

Kyodo

The head of Tepco said Wednesday that the company will make a legal safety pledge — in response to a request by the nation’s nuclear watchdog — as it seeks approval to restart reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture.

Tomoaki Kobayakawa, president of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., told the Nuclear Regulation Authority that the firm will work to build a culture of safety as it seeks the restart of undamaged but idled reactors 6 and 7 at the plant on the Sea of Japan coast.

The nuclear watchdog called for the pledge as part of the firm’s legally binding reactor safety program because it operates the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the site of a major nuclear disaster in the aftermath of the massive March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Tepco’s promise will pave the way for the regulator’s safety clearance for the two boiling-water reactors — the same type as the ones that suffered meltdowns in the 2011 disaster.

The regulator will soon compile a draft document for the two units which will serve as certification that the utility has satisfied new stricter safety requirements implemented since the nuclear disaster.

It will then consult the economy, trade and industry minister, who oversees the nuclear industry, to confirm that Tepco is fit to be an operator. It will also solicit comments from the public before formally giving clearance.

Even if the reactors clear the safety checks, local governments near the plant remain cautious. Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama, for example, has said it will take “around three to four years” for the utility to win the required local consent for a restart.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority said last week that Tepco was qualified” as a nuclear plant operator, but that it wanted the utility to express its resolve to ensure safety in a legal document, not just in words.

Safety programs drawn up for reactors need to be approved by the regulator, which can demand a halt to nuclear power operations if it finds a grave violation.

“We intend to tackle the unending mission of improving the safety of nuclear power and to complete the decommissioning and compensation of the Fukushima No. 1 complex,” Tepco’s Kobayakawa said at the regulator’s meeting on Wednesday. “We will also make efforts to maintain qualification” as an operator of nuclear reactors, he said.

Reactors 6 and 7 at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant are the newest among the seven units at the plant. The complex is one of the world’s largest nuclear power plants, with a combined output capacity of 8.2 million kilowatts.

For a reactor to be restarted, it first needs to clear the safety requirements introduced in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis. Tepco filed for safety assessments of the two units in September 2013.

Tepco, which is facing massive compensation payments and other costs in the aftermath of one of the world’s worst nuclear crises, has been desperate to resume operations of its idled reactors so it can reduce spending on costly fossil fuel imports for thermal power generation.

While some reactors run by other utilities have resumed operations by satisfying the new regulations, Tepco has been under close scrutiny by regulators over whether it is qualified to once again operate a nuclear power plant.