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EDITORIAL | Restart Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Power Plant Now for Japan's Security

Niigata's Governor Hideyo Hanazumi has yet to approve the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant's restart, putting at risk energy security at the national level.

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Nuclear fuel loading work begins at Unit 7 of TEPCO's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Niigata Prefecture on the afternoon of April 15. (Provided by TEPCO)

On April 15 the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) began work on installing 872 fuel rods in the No 7 reactor at its mammoth Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Niigata Prefecture.

Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) approved the world's biggest nuclear power plant to proceed earlier that same day. Installation of the fuel rods began promptly after the approval. 

This is the first step towards restarting power generation at the facility, which was mothballed in 2012. Its shutdown followed the tsunami and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster in March 2011. Hopefully, the restart process will proceed smoothly. 

Unit 6 (right) and Unit 7 of the Tokyo Electric Power Company's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Niigata Prefecture, April 2021. (©Kyodo)

Security Missteps Delayed Restart in 2021

Three years ago in 2021, Kashiwazaki-Kariwa seemed to be on the path to reopening. However, security problems surfaced one after another, raising issues of trust. For example, an employee was discovered entering a central control room at the plant using another employee's ID card. Furthermore, sensors for detecting unauthorized intrusion were found to be faulty. These are essential counterterrorism measures.

The NRA was so concerned that in April 2021 it ordered TEPCO to take remedial measures immediately. That effectively shut down operations. 

TEPCO subsequently took decisive action. It improved communication among all facility staff, from plant manager Takeyuki Inagaki on down. And it did the same with partner companies. As a result, at the end of 2023, the NRA lifted its corrective action order and recognized TEPCO's "qualifications" as a nuclear power plant operator. 

Installation of the fuel rods is expected to take about two weeks to be completed. After that, the condition of the reactor will be confirmed, including the functionality of the control rods. 

These technical procedures have been finalized on the TEPCO side. However, it remains unclear if and when Niigata Prefecture will give its go-ahead to restart the reactor. The mayors and local councils of Kashiwazaki City and Kariwa Village, where the nuclear power plant is located, have already approved the restart of operations. Nevertheless, Niigata's Governor Hideyo Hanazumi has reserved judgment. 

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Niigata Prefecture's technical committee met on April 16 in Niigata City. Their purpose was to discuss the safety of TEPCO's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant. (©Kyodo)

Benefits Beyond Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 

Restarting Reactor No 7 should revitalize the local community. Beyond the region, however, it will also promote the decommissioning process at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. With Kashiwazaki-Kariwa online, energy costs for thermal power generation should be lower. That will improve TEPCO's profits by about ¥110 billion JPY ($711 million USD) annually. We trust that Governor Hanazumi will make his decision comprehensively considering all factors, including energy security at the national level. 

Work to load nuclear fuel begins at Unit 7 of TEPCO's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Niigata Prefecture. Photo released to the press on April 18. (©Kyodo)

Kashiwazaki-Kariwa's Safety Measures

Road closures in the wake of the Noto Peninsula earthquake have raised concerns about how evacuations would be conducted in the event of a major accident. However, nuclear power safety measures have become much stricter due to new regulatory standards. Those were adopted after the Fukushima catastrophe. 

The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant also has vents with built-in filters. These filtered units can significantly reduce radioactive contamination in the surrounding area from radioactive cesium or other substances that could be released. The government should do its best to disseminate reassuring information that will help alleviate public concerns. 

We also urge TEPCO to act with all due diligence and without delay in preparing for the restart of Reactor No 6. That should begin once Reactor No 7 is brought back online.

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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun