Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant: Implement thorough improvement measures to restart operations

Nuclear power plants can provide a stable supply of electricity and restarting them will have a significant impact on economic activities and people’s lives. It is essential that the central government, local governments and electric power companies cooperate to ensure safe operations.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority has released a draft report confirming that improvements have been made at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, which has been forced to suspend operations due to inadequate antiterrorism measures. The NRA will make a final decision on whether to lift the operation ban as early as this month.

It can be said that the plant — which has not been operating for more than two and a half years — has taken a major step toward a restart.

The serious situation in which an operational ban was imposed was due to TEPCO’s lack of awareness regarding the protection of nuclear materials.

In 2021, it was revealed that a plant employee had violated regulations by using a colleague’s ID card to enter the central control room. It was also found that equipment for detecting intrusion from the outside was inadequate, exposing the plant’s sloppy security practices.

TEPCO has made changes following the ban order, including establishing an office to monitor the protection of nuclear materials that is independent of the company department that administers the plant and reports directly to the president. However, in May, the NRA deemed that improvements made in four areas, including the monitoring system, were insufficient, and its inquiry had been dragging on.

TEPCO continued to implement its measures, such as by providing opportunities for senior officials to hold discussions with on-site staff and having the plant’s manager attend inspections when staff arrive for work early in the morning, and the regulatory commission finally approved the improvements.

The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant sits in a large site that has a harsh environment, with strong winds and snowfall frequently triggering false alarms. The NRA has urged that “efforts be made to ensure that the measures are not transitory.” The plant must comply with this call and spread safety awareness throughout the organization.

Compared to the areas served by Kansai Electric Power Co. and Kyushu Electric Power Co. where nuclear power plants have already restarted, electricity bills in TEPCO’s service area remain high. If the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, which has one of the largest outputs in Japan, were to be restarted, it would relieve the tight supply of and high demand for electricity.

In the case of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, a lapse in safety awareness had serious consequences: an operational ban. TEPCO needs to utilize the lessons learned and ensure thorough safety management. If the ban is lifted, the focus will be on securing local consent. It is hoped that TEPCO will make every effort to explain the situation to the local communities.

Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and growing tensions in the Middle East have increased the importance of energy security. There has also been a renewed appreciation for nuclear power plants, which do not emit carbon dioxide and thus contribute to decarbonization.

The central government has shifted its policy to promote nuclear energy, aiming for an early restart of nuclear power plants, including the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant. The central government should take the initiative and support the restart of the plants rather than leaving related measures to local authorities.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 9, 2023)