• Politics & Government

Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Plant Restart in Local Govt Hands; Niigata Gov. May Hold Election on Matter

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An NRA Secretariat official, left, hands a written notice to a TEPCO representative on Wednesday in Tokyo.

Whether to restart the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant will be decided by those in the local area, after an effective ban on the operation of the plant in Niigata Prefecture was lifted on Wednesday.

Procedures for the restart are set to move forward for the first time in two years and eight months. Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., the plant’s operator, will make full-fledged efforts to provide explanations to the Niigata prefectural government and others from the beginning of next year.

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The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) made the decision based on an assessment that continued improvements can be expected at the plants in terms of both hardware and policy.

On the policy side, TEPCO has established a Physical Protection Monitoring Office within the plant. The office is under the direct supervision of the company’s president, so that he can be instrumental in improving on-site problems, rather than reacting on an ad hoc basis. The company also has provided more opportunities to communicate with employees of subcontractors to create an atmosphere in which they can point out problems frankly. The NRA deemed that such efforts “enable the company to promptly respond to various on-site issues.”

On the hardware side, switching to equipment more suitable for natural conditions, such as heavy snowfall, has helped to greatly reduce technical problems.

In response to Wednesday’s decision, TEPCO President Tomoaki Kobayakawa said, “We will keep in mind that we have only returned to the starting line, and continue our efforts to improve.”

Gauging public opinion

Niigata Gov. Hideyo Hanazumi is expected to ascertain the residents’ will regarding the plant’s restart through discussions in the prefectural assembly, a referendum and a gubernatorial reelection.

“An election of course is an option [to seek residents’ opinions],” Hanazumi told reporters Wednesday.

However, some local residents are negative about a gubernatorial election.

“By setting a precedent of holding a gubernatorial reelection to question the restart — which is a national policy — other local governments may be forced to follow suit,” a senior official of the Kashiwazaki Chamber of Commerce and Industry said.

Tohoku University Associate Prof. Kazunori Kawamura said: “Various issues intertwine over the pros and cons of the restart, making it difficult to judge it simply in terms of for or against. A gubernatorial election or referendum may not be able to successfully mirror public opinion.”

¥120 billion a year

TEPCO pays for its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant accident compensation and decommissioning costs with money from its annual profits.

According to TEPCO, resumption of the No. 6 and 7 reactors of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant will reduce its fuel costs for thermal power generation, resulting in savings of ¥120 billion a year. TEPCO’s electricity rates are 20% higher than those of Kansai Electric Power Co. and others. The restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant may lead to a reduction of the rates.

“I will take the lead in fulfilling my accountability [to the local community],” Kobayakawa said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Ken Saito said after meeting with the TEPCO president, “It is extremely important for TEPCO to regain the trust it has lost and become an organization that can improve on its own.”

Saito then asked TEPCO to report on its measures to restore trust early next year.