TEPCO to file for procedures to restart idled nuclear reactors

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Tuesday it will swiftly apply for a state safety assessment of two of its reactors in Niigata Prefecture to restart their operation, even as the utility continues to grapple with the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

The announcement was made ahead of the introduction of a set of new nuclear regulations next Monday, which will effectively restart the stalled procedures to resume the country's reactors, most of which are currently offline.

"As we have finished preparations for the Nos. 6 and 7 reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, we have decided to file applications (for their safety assessment) as swiftly as possible after the new regulations take effect," TEPCO President Naomi Hirose said at a press conference in Tokyo.

Hirose did not say exactly when the company aims to submit the applications, while adding he hopes to meet the officials of Niigata Prefecture and local governments hosting the plant "as early as possible" to provide explanations.

But it remains uncertain whether TEPCO will be able to quickly win local consent for the safety assessments to be conducted by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, given that Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida has been critical of restarting the plant.

In Niigata Prefecture, Izumida expressed frustration over the latest development, saying, "We have not heard any explanations. There is no greater disregard of local people than this."

Hiroshi Aida, mayor of Kashiwazaki, also said he was "surprised" by the sudden announcement.

The later TEPCO submits the applications, the later the resumption of reactors is likely to take place. Four other regional utilities also plan to apply for the NRA's safety screening process in connection with around a dozen reactors immediately after the new regulations come into force.

TEPCO and the other utilities are desperate to resume operation of their idled reactors so they can reduce spending on costly fossil fuel imports for non-nuclear thermal power generation.

TEPCO also needs massive funds to pay compensation related to the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, triggered by a huge earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, and to scrap the crippled reactors.

The need to restart idled reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant was stipulated in a 10-year turnaround plan for TEPCO, which is under effective state control after its receipt of 1 trillion yen in public funds.

TEPCO has three atomic power plants, but the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa complex -- the world's largest nuclear power plant with a combined output capacity of 8.2 million kilowatts -- is the only one not affected by the 2011 natural disaster.

The Nos. 6 and 7 reactors are advanced boiling water reactors and the newest among the seven units at the plant. Under the new regulations, they are required to be equipped with filtered venting systems so radioactive substances will be reduced when gas and steam need to be released from containment vessels in an emergency.

TEPCO said it will likely finish installing the venting system by the end of next March.

The company also said it hopes to apply for a safety assessment of the No. 1 reactor if preparations are completed.