Niigata governor approves TEPCO reactor-restart plan on one condition

September 26, 2013

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida, who has criticized and humiliated Tokyo Electric Power Co., has now removed a hurdle in the utility’s drive to restart two nuclear reactors.

Izumida on Sept. 26 approved TEPCO’s plan to apply for a safety screening for restarting the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture.

But he attached one condition.

In a document handed to a TEPCO executive on Sept. 26, the prefectural government demanded that the utility promise, in an application request, not to use filtered venting equipment without prefectural approval in the event of an accident at the nuclear plant.

Filtered venting equipment is required for nuclear power plants under new safety standards that took effect in July. The equipment is designed to release steam to keep pressure from building within the containment vessel after radioactive materials are filtered. Still, the steam released would contain radioactive substances.

TEPCO plans to file an application for the safety screening with the Nuclear Regulation Authority on Sept. 27.

In a meeting with Izumida on Sept. 25, TEPCO President Naomi Hirose explained the company’s plans to install additional filtered venting equipment at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant.

Hirose also said TEPCO will abide by a safety agreement with the prefectural government and promised not to apply for an NRA safety screening until it obtains prefectural approval for the construction of filtered venting equipment.

Izumida appeared impressed by TEPCO’s policies to take additional safety measures and respect its relationships with the local communities, the sources said.

After the meeting at the prefectural government office on Sept. 25, Izumida said he will decide how to respond after consulting with prefectural government officials.

“I have taken note of the new proposal,” he said, referring to the additional filtered venting equipment.

Hirose said: “We are looking forward to (Izumida’s) judgment. We want to file an application (for restarting the reactors) as soon as possible based on it.”

TEPCO, operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, is desperate to restart the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant to improve earnings.

Securing a profit for the current fiscal year is a precondition for TEPCO to continue to receive loans from creditors. The utility has suffered losses due to fuel costs for thermal power generation to make up for lost capacity at its nuclear plants.

Izumida previously criticized TEPCO’s proposals to ensure safety in case of a major accident at the plant, as well as the utility’s handling of the Fukushima nuclear crisis and its response to the growing problem of radioactive water at the site.

The governor spurned Hirose’s request for approval when they last met on July 5.

Izumida has questioned TEPCO’s plans to put filtered venting equipment on foundations different than those for the reactor buildings.

He repeatedly asked Hirose what would happen if piping that connects the two facilities came off during an earthquake.

“To what extent would residents be exposed to radioactive materials if an accident occurs?” Izumida asked Hirose on Sept. 25.

Hirose said TEPCO will have heavy machinery in place to reconnect piping in case of an accident. He also said the utility will install additional filtered venting equipment underground, which is more quake-resistant than on the surface.

A senior prefectural government official said Sept. 25 that progress has been made since an irate Izumida showed Hirose the door on July 5.

“We cannot tell whether (Izumida) has stopped shaking his fist (at TEPCO), but there is no question that the situation has moved forward,” the official said. “We have at last come to a stage where we can talk.”

On Sept. 25, Hirose handed a document to the governor requesting prior approval for construction of filtered venting equipment. Izumida refused to accept the document during his previous meeting with Hirose.

Officials of Kashiwazaki and Kariwa, the municipalities that together host the nuclear power plant, received the same document when they met with Hirose on July 5.

They gave prior approval for construction of filtered venting equipment in August.

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida receives a document from Naomi Hirose, president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., at the prefectural government office on Sept. 25. (Yusaku Kanagawa)

Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida receives a document from Naomi Hirose, president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., at the prefectural government office on Sept. 25. (Yusaku Kanagawa)

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  • Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida receives a document from Naomi Hirose, president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., at the prefectural government office on Sept. 25. (Yusaku Kanagawa)

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