Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s invitation to the world’s top nuclear agency to review the safety of its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa facility signals the utility’s desire to win international backing to resume operations at the world’s largest atomic power plant.
Kashiwazaki is Tepco’s best bet of returning to nuclear power generation, after the plant was shuttered along with the rest of Japan’s nuclear capacity following the unprecedented meltdowns at the company’s Fukushima No. 1 plant in 2011.
Firing up its reactors would boost Tepco’s profit by as much as ¥32 billion a month, according to Tepco spokesman Tatsuhiro Yamagishi.
“They want a foreign seal of approval,” said Robert Dujarric, a director at the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies of Temple University in Tokyo. “No one trusts what Tepco says. The only way they can convince Japanese residents that this is not risky is to get a foreign institution to certify them being acceptable.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency began its 11-day evaluation on Tuesday and will report its findings to Japan’s watchdog, the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which has the final say on a plant’s safety. A restart would still need local government approval, which presents difficulties as the region’s governor remains a vociferous critic of Tepco.
“Of course Tepco would like them to come online,” Tom O’Sullivan, founder of Tokyo-based energy consultant Mathyos, said by email. However, “I have normally categorized it as a plant that is extremely unlikely to come online. There is huge local opposition.”
Hirohiko Izumida, three-term governor of Niigata Prefecture where the plant is located, has said restarting Kashiwazaki shouldn’t even be considered until Tepco’s safety record and handling of Fukushima are properly reviewed.
The IAEA said its primary focus will be assessing the plant’s internal operations. Three months after its review, the agency will send its report to Tepco, the NRA and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
The review will not replace Japan’s regulatory process, said Peter Tarren, the IAEA’s team leader at Kashiwazaki. “Decisions about restarts of the plant are not the authority of the IAEA,” he said.