Tepco Vows to Push Ahead With Restart of Niigata Nuclear Station

Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the crisis-ridden Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear station, vowed to press ahead with plans to restart another atomic plant in Niigata prefecture that’s key to its return to profitability.

“We’d like to file for safety inspection after gaining approval from the prefecture,” Tokyo Electric President Naomi Hirose told reporters today after meeting with Hirohiko Izumida, the governor of Niigata prefecture where the utility’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant is located. “We’d like to ask them to give us permission soon.”

Izumida has said Tokyo Electric, or Tepco, put profit ahead of safety and has demanded additional questions about the original Fukushima disaster of March 2011 be answered before he’ll agree to approve the restart of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa. The Niigata plant, the world’s largest nuclear power station by generating capacity, sits on a site by the Sea of Japan on the opposite coast from Fukushima.

In a bid to win local approval, Hirose today said Tepco will set up a secondary nuclear venting system at the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa. Under new safety rules, nuclear power plants in Japan must install radiation filter vents. Additional vents could cost several billion yen, Hirose said today.

Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, 220 kilometers (137 miles) northwest of Tokyo, consists of seven reactor units ranging in age from 16 years old to 28 years old, according to the Nuclear Regulation Authority, Japan’s nuclear regulator.

Opposition, Concerns

In July, Izumida refused to approve Tepco’s plans to restart the No. 6 and 7 reactors, saying the utility failed to consult enough with the local community.

The debate over Kashiwazaki-Kariwa has been complicated by the leaking of contaminated water from Tepco’s Fukushima plant into the Pacific Ocean. Fukushima fishermen today said they’d started fishing again on a trial basis after no radioactive materials were detected in sea water following tests by prefectural officials.

Were Kashiwazaki-Kariwa’s reactors to be fully operational, the plant would be able to produce 8.2 gigawatts of energy, almost 18 percent of the country’s entire functioning nuclear fleet and enough power to supply about 2.7 million Japanese households. Kashiwazaki-Kariwa’s reactors have been idle since the No. 6 reactor was halted for scheduled maintenance in March 2012.

Tepco Response

If operations at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa remain suspended, Tepco would need to increase the rate it charges consumers for electricity by 8.5 percent to 10 percent as early as January to achieve a pretax profit for the year to March 2014, a company document obtained by Bloomberg News showed. Tepco serves 29 million people in the Tokyo metropolitan area, the world’s largest.

Tepco, which had a 685.3 billion yen ($6.9 billion) loss last fiscal year, said in May 2012 that it would return to profit this year if reactors at the Niigata plant are restarted.

Tepco said on Sept. 21 that it won’t request a safety inspection from the regulator before gaining consent from Niigata’s governor. Hirose reiterated today that Niigata’s approval is critical.

Japan’s utilities are in the process of seeking approval to restart their reactors under rules designed after the Fukushima disaster.

Chubu Electric Power Co. today said it will strive to apply for safety checks at its Hamaoka nuclear plant in the fiscal year ending in March. Chubu’s Hamaoka nuclear plant, which lies close to an active fault line, was shut in 2011 after the utility accepted government calls to address safety concerns at the site.

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