Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s road back to becoming a nuclear-power utility remains uncertain amid staunch local opposition to restarting the world’s biggest atomic plant.
Hirohiko Izumida, governor of the prefecture that’s home to Tokyo Electric’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, said after meeting regulators on Monday that the time isn’t right to consider whether the utility can restart the facility. While not enshrined in law, local government approval is traditionally sought by Japanese utilities before they turn on atomic plants.
The role of local government officials has become even more critical to the future of nuclear power in Japan since the Fukushima disaster in March 2011 reinvigorated debate in the nation. Izumida on Monday repeated his stance that a full probe is still needed into what went wrong at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi station, which was also operated by Tokyo Electric.
“It’s too early to discuss the restart of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa,” Izumida, governor of Niigata, told reporters in Tokyo. “The restart is not even at the stage of discussion because review of the Fukushima accident is needed.”
The country’s return to nuclear power took a small step forward earlier this month as Kyushu Electric Power Co. resumed operations at its Sendai station, the first to restart under new safety rules imposed after Fukushima.
The Niigata governor, a vocal critic of Tokyo Electric, has chastised the company for putting profit ahead of safety and has called repeatedly for questions about the Fukushima disaster to be answered before he agrees 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.
Izumida met with Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka on Monday to demand the watchdog reinstate the use of an emergency response system known as SPEEDI. The governor wants SPEEDI, used to predict the spread of radiation, to be part of local government planning for evacuations in case of accidents.
Tanaka repeated the NRA’s opposition. The NRA stopped using SPEEDI in October 2014, ruling that its predictions didn’t adequately eliminate exposure risk.
The system wasn’t used when making evacuation decisions during the 2011 Fukushima crisis, although in place at the time.
The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa station has seven reactor units with a combined capacity of 8,212 megawatts, according to Tokyo Electric’s website.