Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) took an initial step forward on Thursday in its plan to recover from the Fukushima nuclear disaster by winning approval from a previously reluctant local governor to apply to restart a plant in western Japan.
Getting the green light to seek safety approval for the Kashiwazaki Kariwa facility, the world’s largest nuclear plant, is a core element of the utility’s turnaround plan as it struggles to contain contaminated water at the wrecked Fukushima plant.
All of Japan’s 50 reactors were shut down after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami crippled Fukushima, and triggered a nuclear crisis, amid a wave of public revulsion against the industry. Two units were brought back on line last year, but shutdowns in recent weeks have left Japan without nuclear power for only the third time since 1970.
The return to power 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 safety guidelines. The process is expected to take well into next year.
Tepco said it would approach Japan’s new nuclear regulator on Friday to seek permission to restart two of seven reactors at Kashiwazaki Kariwa, 300 km northwest of Tokyo.
The governor of Niigata prefecture, in a statement issued a day after a highly publicised appeal from Tepco’s president, said he was allowing the utility to apply for safety approval. But he was withholding final judgment on restarting the plant.
“Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear power plant may be halted but it is a living facility, and safety must be ensured at the plant,” governor Hirohiko Izumida said.