Following on from an earlier blog on Sept. 14, Japan’s nuclear watchdog has now approved safety measures implemented by TEPCO at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata, clearing the way for the restart of two of the reactors there.
The approval is the first for the beleaguered utility since the March 2011 nuclear disasters at its No. 1 nuclear power plant in Fukushima.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority said yesterday that the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant -- which is one of the world's largest -- now met the new safety criteria that was put into force following the multiple meltdowns explosions in Fukushima that forced the evacuation of around 160,000 residents.
Before the restarts take place, the NRA will seek approval from the public. Residents living near the plant are expected to oppose any restarts. It is believed by some experts that the plant sits atop as many as 23 seismic faults.
It will also ask the views of the head of the ministry of of economy, trade and industry, which will be charged with overseeing TEPCO's management policy concerning its restart initiative and its decommissioning of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
Concerns have been raised about the utility's commitment and responsibility toward that decommissioning effort -- which is estimated to take 40 years. As mentioned in an earlier post, it came to light last month that workers at the Fukushima No. 1 plant had erroneously set water gauges to measure groundwater levels of wells around reactor buildings. As a result it is thought that leaks of highly contaminated water to the outside water, including the ocean, may well have taken place.
Local media is reporting that the restarts are not guaranteed even if TEPCO passes all the required tests and screenings. It also will be required to gain the approval of local governments
Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama has said that he will wait until his prefectural government completes its own investigation into the cause of the Fukushima disaster before making any decision on restarts at Kashiwazaki-kariwa plant. This is expected to take another three or four years to complete.
There is not a little irony in the NRA seeking approval from the industry ministry. As mentioned in Yoshida's Dilemma, the ministry was deemed to have been a key player in a number of nuclear industry scandals, including coverups involving the doctoring of data and airbrushing out reactor defects and the outing of industry whistleblowers. In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster it was decided that the cozy ties between the nuclear industry and nuclear regulator should be severed and a new regulatory body, the NRA, that was completely unconnected to the economy ministry, was established. Experts have commented that there is a growing tendency for the NRA to start resembling its corrupt predecessor, NISA.