Tokyo Electric seeks restart of world’s largest nuclear plant


By Kentaro Hamada and Mari Saito, Reuters

TOKYO – Tokyo Electric Power Co on Friday applied to restart a nuclear plant in northwestern Japan, an initial step on its planned recovery from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

But final approval to resume power generation at the Kashiwazaki Kariwa facility, the world’s largest nuclear plant some 300 km (180 miles) northwest of Tokyo, is uncertain and any decision would take many months at best.

All of Japan’s 50 reactors were shut down after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima plant, triggering a nuclear crisis and a spike in popular opposition to the industry. Two units were brought back on line last year, but recent shutdowns have left Japan without nuclear power for only the third time since 1970.

The return to government last year of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a proponent of nuclear power who says Fukushima is “under control”, has given rise to suggestions that idled reactors may be restarted under new safety guidelines. The process is expected to take well into next year.

After winning approval from a previously reluctant local governor in Niigata prefecture, where the Kashiwazaki Kariwa facility is located, Tokyo Electric (Tepco) applied on Friday to Japan’s nuclear regulator for permission to restart two of the plant’s seven reactors.

UNDER PRESSURE

Japan’s government, though, is keeping up the pressure on Tepco to improve safety.

“Nothing is more important than safety and getting the understanding of the local people,” Trade and Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told Tepco President Naomi Hirose on Friday. “I want you to continue making efforts to improve safety.”

Hirose said Tepco’s application to the independent Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) was just the beginning of the process, and it will work with local authorities on safety measures. On Wednesday, Hirose told Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida that Tepco would improve safety by attaching an additional filter vent to ease pressure inside containment vessels if an emergency arose.