Two nuclear reactors run by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. cleared the safety review of Japan’s nuclear watchdog on Wednesday, drawing fierce criticism from residents who remain displaced more than six years after the nuclear crisis at the utility’s Fukushima complex.
The government safety clearance of reactors 6 and 7 at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power station in Niigata Prefecture is a key step toward having operations resume.
“It appears that things are moving forward as if the (Fukushima nuclear) crisis is over,” said Hiroko Matsumoto, 68, who lives in a temporary shelter house in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, away from her home in Tomioka, also in the prefecture, due to the triple meltdown at Tepco’s Fukushima No. 1 plant in March 2011.
“I want (Tepco) to never forget that a serious nuclear accident can cause enormous damage,” she said.
The approval by the Nuclear Regulation Authority shocked residents in Niigata and surrounding areas who are concerned about the reactors’ reactivation, but others are hoping to see economic benefits from the restart.
“I am surprised that the regulatory authority abruptly softened its stance toward Tepco. I doubt such a hasty decision can guarantee citizens’ safety,” said Nobuko Baba, 76, who lives about 23 kilometers east of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.
“Whether to resume operation (of the two reactors) should be the decision of Niigata Prefecture citizens. I am counting on Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama, who has been wary about it,” she said.
Yoneyama ordered a local investigation into the causes and impact of the Fukushima disaster, and is not expected to decide on whether he will approve a restart until the assessment is completed around 2020.
In contrast, Yasuo Ishizaka, 53, an executive of an industrial equipment company in Kashiwazaki, was happy to hear the news.
“I am glad that the safety screening went smoothly, and it is a big step forward for the local economy,” Ishizaka said.
On Wednesday, anti-nuclear activists gathered near a building in Tokyo’s Minato Ward where the nuclear watchdog held a meeting and endorsed a draft document, which serves as certification that the two reactors have met the new, stricter safety standards introduced after the Fukushima disaster.
Amid chants of “Tepco should not be qualified” and “No reactor resumption,” a representative handed over a letter of protest to an official of the regulator.
With the authority’s safety approval, the two reactors became the first of Tepco’s idled units to pass the safety screening since the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
In a media statement on Wednesday, international environmentalist group Greenpeace criticized the regulator’s decision as reckless and said local opposition against the restarts remains strong.
“It’s the same disregard for nuclear risks that resulted in Tepco’s 2011 triple reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 site. Approving the safety of reactors at the world’s largest nuclear plant, when it is at extreme risk from major earthquakes, completely exposes the weakness of Japan’s nuclear regulator,” said Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist for Greenpeace Germany.