It’s been a long journey, longer than the zodiac animal cycle, but the stars are finally lining up for Tokyo Electric (TEPCO). The operator behind the Fukushima disaster is closer than ever to bringing back online its last remaining nuclear power plant after the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa station passed a facility inspection and the regulator lifted an operational ban.
With anti-terrorism upgrades deemed satisfactory, at a meeting of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) on Dec 27, all five authorized officials supported the cancellation of the ban. This is a major step forward in the NPP’s path to a restart after a damning review of the anti-terrorism measures in early 2021, and other failings, made the NRA issue its first ever “red card” to the utility.
Since the announcement came when the media is less active due to the holidays, the event went largely unnoticed. But it promises to be one of the most important for Japan’s energy security this year, and could help TEPCO shed its troubled reputation that has haunted the utility since the March 2011 Fukushima disaster.
Kashiwazaki-Kariwa NPP’s restart of Units 6 and 7 would be a financial boon for TEPCO, bringing online 2.7 GW of power. This would allow the utility to cut costs by importing less LNG and coal, and boost CO2-free power sales to customers. Equally significant, the restart of those two units would increase the Kanto region’s supply reserve ratio, which is lower than other parts of Japan. The final decision for the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa restart now rests with local authorities, and whether or not it succeeds will depend in large part on whether TEPCO can convince public opinion of the NPP’s necessity. To do this, TEPCO must continue to show that it’s capable of adequately managing the facility. The company has taken early steps to build local support, but faces a tough task to divert public attention from its association with the Fukushima disaster, the impact and costs of which are not yet fully known.