National › Niigata governor reverses course; OKs reactor safety screening - ( J44P44NN )

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) on Friday filed an application with the Nuclear Regulation Authority to seek permission for safety screening tests with the aim of restarting two of seven reactors at Kashiwazaki Kariwa in Niigata Prefecture.

TEPCO filed the application after winning approval from previously reluctant Niigata Gov Hirohiko Izumida to apply to restart the plant.

Izumida, in a statement issued Thursday, a day after a highly publicized appeal from TEPCO’s president, said he was allowing the utility to apply for safety approval. But he was withholding final judgment on restarting the plant.

“Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear power plant may be halted but it is a living facility, and safety must be ensured at the plant,” Izumida said in a statement faxed to Reuters.

There was no immediate explanation for the change of heart by Izumida, who had previously denounced TEPCO as unfit to run a nuclear plant and had called for the company’s liquidation.

Getting the green light to seek safety approval for the Kashiwazaki Kariwa facility, the world’s largest nuclear plant, is a core element of the utility’s turnaround plan as it struggles to contain contaminated water at the wrecked Fukushima plant.

All of Japan’s 50 reactors were shut down after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami crippled Fukushima, and triggered a nuclear crisis, amid a wave of public revulsion against the industry. Two units were brought back on line last year, but shutdowns in recent weeks have left Japan without nuclear power for only the third time since 1970.

The return to power last year of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a proponent of nuclear power who says Fukushima is “under control”, has given rise to suggestions that idled reactors may be restarted under safety guidelines. The process is expected to take well into next year.

Approval from the Nuclear Regulation Authority, established after its predecessor was discredited by the 2011 disaster, is uncertain and any decision could take many months at best.

On Wednesday, NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka declined to comment on prospects for a restart of Kashiwazaki Kariwa.

The nuclear shutdowns have obliged Japan to import costly fuel to meet its power needs. The country has run trade deficits for 14 months, the longest string since 1979-80.

TEPCO is already behind schedule on its revival plan, which called for firing up at least one Kashiwazaki Kariwa reactor by April of this year. If all seven reactors were operational, Tepco says, it would save the company $ 1 billion a month in costs to generate power for Japan’s biggest economic region.

TEPCO president Naomi Hirose said in a statement that the company would uphold its safety commitments. On Wednesday, he told Izumida the company would attach a second filter to ease pressure inside containment vessels if an emergency arose.

Four other electric utilities have sought NRA approval for restarts, which must also be approved by local authorities. 

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2013.