The Nuclear Regulation Authority's effective go-ahead last week for restarting two reactors in Niigata Prefecture came just a few months after the departing NRA chief, Shunichi Tanaka, called Tokyo Electric Power Holdings Co. unfit to run a nuclear power station. He said Tepco lacks the will to take the initiative in decommissioning the crippled Fukushima No. 1 plant, where three reactors suffered core meltdowns in the mega-disaster of March 2011.
While restarting reactors 6 and 7 at the giant Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant on the Sea of Japan coast is not expected to take place anytime soon — due to opposition from the local governor, whose consent will be needed — it must be scrutinized whether the nuclear watchdog carefully assessed Tepco's qualifications as a nuclear plant operator after seeming to question its fitness so severely as recently as July.
Exposed to a tightening business environment due to liberalization of the power retail market, Tepco sees the restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant as crucial to rebuilding the company's finances, which were battered by the massive cost of decommissioning the Fukushima No. 1 plant and paying damages to residents affected by the disaster — which will reach an estimated ¥16 trillion. The government believes that reopening the Niigata plant will help Tepco in its compensation efforts and measures to cope with severe accidents. But that should not factor in the safety screening before bringing the idled reactors back online.