Tepco Niigata Atomic Plant Safe to Restart in 2016, Adviser Says

  • Positive progress made in safety enhancements and culture
  • Reactors would boost profit by as much as $228 million a month

Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, the largest in the world by generating capacity, is making headway with safety improvements and will likely be ready from a technical standpoint to restart early next year, according to a safety adviser to Japan’s biggest utility.

“We were positively impressed,” Dale Klein, former chief of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and now head of safety reform at Tokyo Electric, said in an interview after visiting the facility with a group of independent advisers on Thursday. “The physical enhancements that have been made and the effort that they are making to develop a safety culture” shows that the facility is on its way to meeting international safety standards, he said.

Strapped by Fukushima decommissioning costs and declining sales, Tepco would see an immediate benefit by restarting the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa. Resuming operation of the two units would boost profit by as much as 28 billion yen ($228 million) a month, the company has said.

Tepco, as the utility is known, has spent about 470 billion yen since 2007 to improve safety and meet new standards at the facility. Kashiwazaki-Kariwa was damaged by fire in a 2007 earthquake, resulting in its seven reactors being taken offline. Some eventually restarted, though the March 2011 Fukushima disaster saw all operating reactors at the facility shuttered for safety checks. 

Watchdog’s Approval

The independent adviser highlighted progress made in physical safety, such as installation of waterproof doors, auxiliary power, a 15 meter flood-prevention wall, and a reservoir that stores 20,000 tons of water to cool reactors in case of pump failures.

The plant has yet to receive approval from the nation’s nuclear watchdog to resume operations.

Tepco’s Kashiwazaki facility still faces local hurdles. Hirohiko Izumida, the governor of the prefecture that’s home to the facility, said in August that the time isn’t right to consider whether the utility can restart it. While not enshrined in law, local government approval is traditionally sought by Japanese utilities before they turn on atomic plants.

“Tepco will need to work with the local community to make sure that they are confident that the safety meets their expectations,” Klein said. “They need to be more proactive. Tepco needs to have a major educational program” that shows what type of safety systems they have in place.

Earlier this year, Kyushu Electric Power Co. restarted two units at its Sendai plant, the country’s first under new regulations following the 2011 Fukushima Dai-Ichi meltdown. The Sendai reactors in southern Japan will increase profit by 80 billion yen in the 12 months ending in March, the company said in October.

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