Niigata governor calls TEPCO's turnaround plan a 'pie in the sky'

January 16, 2014

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Government officials in Niigata Prefecture criticized Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s rebuilding plan that includes bringing idled nuclear reactors back online.

They questioned whether the utility could implement the plan according to schedule and raised doubts about TEPCO’s commitment to safety.

TEPCO’s plan, approved by the central government on Jan. 15, calls for restarting four reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture. The utility aims to resume operations at the plant's No. 6 and 7 reactors as early as July.

Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida bluntly called the plan “a pie in the sky idea.”

Despite his critical stance, Izumida met with TEPCO President Naomi Hirose on Jan. 16 to hear how the company plans to rebound from the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

“Shareholders and banks have not taken responsibility (for the accident), and it is a ridiculous plan from a safety standpoint,” Izumida said at the meeting.

The governor has never hidden his distrust of the utility. He strongly objected when TEPCO announced plans in July 2013 to submit an application to the Nuclear Regulation Authority for checks to determine if the No. 6 and 7 reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant complied with the government’s new safety standards.

Izumida was incensed because the utility failed to notify the Niigata prefectural government beforehand that it was planning to submit the application, part of the process toward resuming operations at the two reactors.

Although the governor did conditionally approve the filing of the application in September, he has long insisted that he would only consent to the resumption of reactor operations after the investigation and review of the Fukushima nuclear accident are completed.

Izumida has been especially critical of the fact that TEPCO has yet to clearly explain why it took nearly two months after the onset of the nuclear disaster to admit that meltdowns had occurred at the Fukushima plant.

“A major point of the review of the accident is to determine if (TEPCO) is a company that can be trusted,” Izumida said Jan. 15.

For its part, TEPCO is hoping that the NRA will soon determine the facility complies with the stricter safety standards so that the two reactors can be restarted in July or August.

The utility also hopes to bring back online the No. 1 and 5 reactors by February 2015 after safety upgrades are finished.

The mayors of the two municipalities that host the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant also made clear they need more reassurances before giving their consent to the resumption of operations.

“A major precondition will be the implementation of measures to secure the safety of the plant,” said Kashiwazaki Mayor Hiroshi Aida.

Kariwa Mayor Hiroo Shinada said TEPCO’s plan will not automatically lead to reactor restarts. “The rebuilding plan is the basis for injecting public funds by the central government, while the resumption of operations at the plant is a completely different issue,” he said.

In Fukushima Prefecture, officials were focusing on another measure in TEPCO’s turnaround plan to prevent highly radioactive water from leaking into the groundwater and ocean at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

The plan calls for purifying all water contaminated by radioactive materials, with the exception of tritium, by the end of fiscal 2014.

“We would welcome any measure that contributes to the stability of the Fukushima No. 1 plant,” Tetsu Nozaki, head of the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations, said.

The federation has postponed plans to resume fishing due to repeated discoveries that contaminated water was reaching the ocean.

In August 2013, about 300 tons of highly radioactive water was found to have leaked from storage tanks at the Fukushima plant. That forced the postponement of fishing trials off the coast of Iwaki, which would have been the first attempt to resume fishing operations since the start of the Fukushima nuclear accident.

“If the contaminated water can truly be controlled, that would lead to a resumption of the fishing industry,” Nozaki said. “I hope they take measures to prevent contaminated water, be it from the rain or groundwater, from flowing into the ocean.”

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida addresses prefectural government officials in early January. (The Asahi Shimbun)

Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida addresses prefectural government officials in early January. (The Asahi Shimbun)

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  • Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida addresses prefectural government officials in early January. (The Asahi Shimbun)
  • The No. 5 to 7 reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant are visible in the right foreground. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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