Following the 2011 Fukushima disaster, the rest of Japan’s nuclear power plants plunged into darkness. This year, the Japanese government has been trying to rekindle its nuclear facilities in an effort to rely less on exported goods and drive down its energy bill. Now, Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s (TEPCO’s) Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant – the largest in the world by generating capacity – is expected to be back online early next year.
“We were positively impressed,” Dale Klein, former chief of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who is now in charge of safety reform at Tokyo Electric, said in a recent interview. “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.(1)
The rest of Japan is less impressed. Prior to the 2011 disaster, approximately 65 percent of the country was in favor of nuclear energy. Following the 2011 disaster, approximately 70 percent of the country oppose nuclear energy. Despite majority rule, the Japanese government wants to revert back to the folly of its ways to make a bang for a buck. In actuality, the Japanese government should be investing in alternative, environmentally friendly forms of energy – not more of the power that got them into this mess.(2)
When money trumps public safety
TEPCO, the company in charge of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, is rapidly losing money while struggling to decommission the nuclear facility. They could make a substantial profit by restarting their No. 6 and No. 7 reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa. Restarting the two units would boost profits by $228 million a month, the company said. Rather than stay afloat, however, TEPCO should drown with the tsunami that engulfed the Fukushima site.(1)
The electric utility company has already exhausted nearly 470 billion yen since 2007 to live up to safety standards at the facility. Kashiwazaki-Kariwa was damaged by a fire following an earthquake in 2007, which shut down seven of its reactors. Some of the reactors restarted; however, the 2011 Fukushima disaster stymied these operations.
The independent adviser underlined progress that had been made in restoring the power plant, including the installation of waterproof doors, auxiliary power, a 15 meter flood-prevention wall, and a reservoir that harbors 20,000 tons of water to keep the reactors cool. Despite these improvements, the nuclear facility has yet to receive the okay to restart operations from Japanese authorities.
Hurdles yet to overcome
The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa site still faces challenges it must overcome in order to resume operations. Hirohiko Izumida, the governor of the Prefecture where Kashiwazaki-Kariwa is located, said it wasn’t the right time to determine whether the facility is fit to resume operations in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. Although it is not the law of the land, it is heavily encouraged that nuclear facilities seek approval from local governments before turning 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, he said.(1)
Earlier this year, Kyushu Electric Power Co. restarted two nuclear reactors at its Sendai plant. This was the first time a nuclear facility passed Japan’s updated safety standards, which all nuclear power plants must meet, before they can resume operations. Nevertheless, the Japanese public does not feel that the new safety standards are themselves up to snuff. Restarting the reactors was met with widespread public protest, including by Japan’s former Prime Minister Naoto Kan.