Irrational reactor restart plan

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Tuesday that it will ask the Nuclear Regulation Authority to examine the Nos. 6 and 7 reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture for a possible restarting under the NRA’s new safety regulations that will take effect Monday.

Tepco’s reactor restart plan is deplorable because it comes at a time when it is making scant progress in its efforts to safely shutter its stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, clean up contaminated areas, compensate victims and determine the causes of the crisis.

Given that Tepco’s gross mismanagement of the Fukushima crisis, people are questioning whether Tepco is qualified to operate a nuclear power plant. In the past months, Fukushima No. 1 has suffered a series of contaminated water leaks, and 150,000 people from Fukushima Prefecture are still forced to live away from their homes because their communities remain contaminated.

Tepco executives must realize that they have done nothing to regain people’s trust, but they do not seem to care. They did not even have the courtesy to give Niigata Prefecture Gov. Hirohiko Izumida advance notice about the restart plan. His criticism of their actions is most understandable.

Tepco is basically employing blackmail tactics in filing its request with the NRA. It effectively asserts that if the reactors are not restarted, it will have no choice but to further raise electricity fees. Tepco suffered a net loss of ¥685.2 billion in the business year that ended March 31. It is reported that operating one reactor will improve its income and expenditure balance by ¥100 billion a year. But the decision to restart the reactors appears to be short-sighted.

The safety measures that are required under the new regulations will be costly to implement. Since the two reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant are boiling light water reactors — the same type as the Fukushima No. 1 reactors — the safety regulations are more severe than those for pressurized light water reactors. They include the immediate installation of filters to remove radioactive substances when such substances are vented from reactor cores in an emergency.

It is also suspected that a geological fault under a reactor building in the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant is active. If the NRA determines that it is active and then calls for the decommissioning of the plant’s reactors, Tepco will have wasted a huge sum on safety upgrades. Even if the plant passes the NRA’s safety examination, Tepco’s expenditures for the disposal of accumulated spent nuclear fuel will increase, and the power company is also facing rising costs associated with the cleanup of the stricken Fukushima plant, decontamination efforts and compensation.

The experience in Europe shows that it is cheaper and less risky to operate numerous small-scale renewable electricity sources spread across a country rather than a small number of large nuclear power plants. Since the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant has seven reactors, one accident could shut down the entire plant. Tepco has no financial means to cope with a new nuclear disaster. Its reactor restart plan is irrational both economically and socially.