Two weeks after he said it was vital to rebuild his company, the new chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Co. admitted restarts of reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture from April was looking difficult.
Kazuhiko Shimokobe told The Asahi Shimbun that the plan, a key part of TEPCO’s rehabilitation program, faces “high hurdles.”
A number of errors were found in a stress test report submitted in January by the company as part of the restart process, and Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida has taken a cautious stance on the issue.
“We can reach a stage where we can consider restarts only after we receive positive consent from the local community,” Shimokobe said.
Izumida made his position clear on July 13 when Shimokobe and Naomi Hirose, TEPCO president, met him for the first time after they took up their posts on June 27.
“Which do you think is more important, management or safety?” the governor asked during a meeting held at the Niigata prefectural government office.
“What is most important is safety,” a strained-looking Shimokobe replied.
According to sources, Izumida believes TEPCO is rushing the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa restarts without digesting key lessons from the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
“It is regrettable that both of you began talking about restarts as soon as (you took office),” Izumida told the TEPCO executives.
At a news conference on June 28, Shimokobe said restarting the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors was crucial to restoring TEPCO’s operations.
TEPCO estimates that a one-year delay in restarting a nuclear power reactor will increase its fuel costs by 78 billion yen ($983 million) because of the need to use thermal power generation to make up for lost capacity.
Shimokobe told The Asahi Shimbun that it would be difficult to cover the increased costs with more increases in electricity charges.
“We will go for more cost cuts and we won’t consider personnel expenses untouchable,” he said. “We will compile an action program by drawing on the expertise of outside directors.”
TEPCO operated three nuclear power plants before the Great East Japan Earthquake struck on March 11, 2011: the Fukushima No. 1 plant, the Fukushima No. 2 plant and the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.
Shimokobe said the company will decide within a few years whether to decommission the two remaining reactors at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 plant and four reactors at the Fukushima No. 2 plant.
Bringing those six reactors back online will be significantly more difficult than reactivating the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors. The Fukushima prefectural government has already called for all six to be decommissioned, but TEPCO maintains it has not made a decision.
Shimokobe said the company will begin considering the issue after the government decides on a new energy policy this summer.
In the meantime, the company plans to use revenue from electricity charges to finance the annual 90 billion yen required to maintain the six reactors.
“We cannot win public understanding if the burden continues while a conclusion on the issue is postponed forever,” Shimokobe said.
TEPCO has already officially decided to decommission the four reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant that were devastated by the earthquake and tsunami.
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