Claiming it had learned a painful lesson from the disaster at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Sept. 27 applied for safety screenings for restarting two nuclear reactors in Niigata Prefecture.
Takafumi Anegawa, managing executive officer of TEPCO, submitted applications to the Nuclear Regulation Authority for screenings for the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant.
The requests marked the utility's first applications since the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 overwhelmed the defenses of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
“We have asked (the NRA) to confirm whether our safety measures are sufficient after we learned hard lessons from the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 plant,” Anegawa said. “It is a sobering experience.”
TEPCO President Naomi Hirose said the same day the company is preparing to apply for safety screenings for other reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.
The utility hopes to bring the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors back online by the end of March, but hurdles abound.
It is generally believed to take six months for the NRA to check whether a reactor complies with the new nuclear safety standards that took effect in July. But the screenings for the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors could take longer.
One reason is different screening standards depending on the type of reactors.
Four other regional utilities have already applied for safety screenings for 12 reactors at six plants. While these reactors are all pressurized water reactors, the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors are boiling water reactors, the same type as those crippled at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
Officials at the NRA secretariat have also been preoccupied with the screenings for 10 of the 12 reactors.
The screenings could also be prolonged by NRA investigations into suspected active fault lines at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.
Under the new safety standards, important facilities of a nuclear power plant are not allowed to be sited immediately above active fault lines, which must be taken into account in seismic designs.
The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant has seven reactors, and fault lines below the buildings that house six of them have moved over the past 300,000 years or so.
The only exception is the No. 4 reactor building. In particular, experts suspect that fault lines that run below the No. 1 and No. 2 reactor buildings are active.
TEPCO filed applications for the safety screenings a day after Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida gave consent on condition that the company will not use filtered venting equipment in the event of an accident without prefectural approval.
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.
However, Izumida, who has criticized TEPCO over its handling of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, has expressed reservations over the utility restarting nuclear reactors.
TEPCO has concluded a nuclear safety agreement with the Niigata and other local governments and is required to obtain their consent before it restarts the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors.
TEPCO has been under pressure to apply for the safety screenings because it must refinance about 80 billion yen ($800 million) in outstanding loans in October.
Securing a recurring profit for the current fiscal year is a precondition for new loans. TEPCO, which incurred more than 300 billion yen in recurring losses in the fiscal year that ended in March, has to at least explain to creditors that it can expect to return to the black.
The company expects an improvement of 100 billion yen in annual earnings if one reactor at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant gets restarted, which will reduce fuel costs for thermal power generation.
The deepening radioactive water crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 plant has also added pressure on TEPCO to restart reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.
TEPCO has announced it will secure an additional 1 trillion yen for countermeasures against the contaminated water and other problems over the coming 10 years. But a senior industry ministry official said it will not be possible unless reactors are restarted.
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