Governor’s opposition forces TEPCO to delay restart application

July 06, 2013

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Tokyo Electric Power Co. has been forced to postpone an application for restarting two reactors in Niigata Prefecture due to staunch opposition from the prefectural governor.

TEPCO President Naomi Hirose on July 5 sought to gain support from Governor Hirohiko Izumida for plans to restart the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant.

TEPCO had hoped to file an application with the Nuclear Regulation Authority as early as July 8, when new nuclear safety standards take effect.

Izumida refused to approve the plans and criticized TEPCO for making a decision on July 2 to apply for restarting the reactors without offering any explanation to the local community.

Emerging from the 30-minute meeting at the prefectural government office, Hirose told reporters he wants to meet Izumida again to state his case.

Hirose said after he briefed a senior official of the industry ministry about his meeting with Izumida on the evening of July 5 that the setback will make it difficult to file an application on July 8.

“We have entered a thorny path,” a senior TEPCO official said. “We may not be able to bring the reactors back online.”

At the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, TEPCO is installing filtered venting equipment, which is required under the new safety standards, to release steam from reactor containment vessels in the event of a severe accident.

Izumida told Hirose that TEPCO needs to obtain prior approval for the installation from the local community based on a nuclear safety agreement between TEPCO and the prefecture and two other local governments that host the nuclear plant.

All seven reactors at the plant, which straddles Kashiwazaki city and Kariwa village, have remained offline since March 2012, a year after TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant was crippled by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

TEPCO, which posted 780 billion yen ($7.78 billion) in combined pretax losses over the past two years, plans to return to the black in the current fiscal year by restarting reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.

When Izumida said TEPCO is putting profit ahead of safety, a red-faced Hirose said the utility needs to avoid a third consecutive loss.

Izumida emphasized that TEPCO should not file an application without prior approval from the local community.

Hirose said TEPCO plans to consult with the local community after filing an application.

“We think it is possible for the prefecture’s technical committee to conduct its checks in parallel with the NRA’s safety screening,” Hirose said.

But Izumida disagreed. Doing things that way, he said, does not constitute prior approval.

“Only by keeping a promise and not telling a lie can you stand at the starting line,” he said.

Hirose also met separately with Kashiwazaki Mayor Hiroshi Aida and Kariwa Mayor Hiroo Shinada on July 5.

While Izumida refused to accept a written request for prior understanding on the installation of filtered venting equipment, both Aida and Shinada had no problem doing so.

Aida and Shinada were later asked to comment on the meeting between Hirose and Izumida.

Aida said he expects TEPCO to take steps so that a relationship of trust will not be damaged, while Shinada questioned Izumida’s refusal to accept documents from Hirose.

The nation’s 50 nuclear reactors, except for two in Fukui Prefecture, remained offline after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Hokkaido Electric Power Co., Kansai Electric Power Co., Shikoku Electric Power Co. and Kyushu Electric Power Co. will apply on July 8 for restarting 10 reactors at five plants, NRA officials said July 5.

Kyushu Electric said it plans to file an application for two additional reactors on July 12.

TEPCO fears that the reactivation of reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant will be substantially delayed if an application is not submitted early.

The pro-nuclear Abe administration was backing TEPCO’s plans for restarts.

In its growth strategy adopted in June, the central government said it will make efforts to win the understanding and cooperation of local communities for restarting reactors whose safety has been confirmed by the NRA.

When TEPCO decided at a board meeting on July 2 to apply for restarting the two reactors, industry minister Toshimitsu Motegi said the central government would “come to the fore” to persuade the local community.

A senior ministry official said TEPCO had no choice but to seek restarts because it cannot expect to return to the black soon without restarting the reactors.

If TEPCO incurs a third consecutive loss, banks could suspend additional loans.

“TEPCO needed to show to banks that it is doing whatever it can,” the official said.

In Kashiwazaki, the economy has stalled since all the reactors stopped operating at the nuclear plant in March 2012.

“We want the plant to get restarted if it is safe,” said the president of an electrical installation contractor, which inspects water meters at the plant. “In the first step, we want an application to be made for safety screening to be carried out.”

The number of employees at subcontractors working for the plant fell from 5,448 in March 2012 to 3,829 in June.

A taxi driver in his 50s, who was waiting for a customer in front of the JR Kashiwazaki Station, said he hopes an early restart, noting that, “Business stopped when all the reactors stopped.”

But the chief of a neighborhood association in the Shiiya district of Kashiwazaki, 5 kilometers from the plant, is opposed to a restart.

“The local economy is important, but the nuclear plant can threaten our lives,” he said.

The 69-year-old said he is concerned what would happen if a geological fault near the plant moves and a large earthquake occurs.

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
  • 1
submit to reddit
Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida, left, meets with Naomi Hirose, president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., at the Niigata prefectural government office on July 5. (Takaharu Yagi)

Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida, left, meets with Naomi Hirose, president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., at the Niigata prefectural government office on July 5. (Takaharu Yagi)

Toggle
  • Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida, left, meets with Naomi Hirose, president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., at the Niigata prefectural government office on July 5. (Takaharu Yagi)
  • The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

More AJW