Japan nuclear regulator approves first TEPCO reactors since Fukushima disaster

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Press release - 27 September, 2017

Tokyo, 27 September 2017 - Japan’s nuclear regulator today granted preliminary safety approval for two Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) reactors at the Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear plant despite widespread public opposition. These are the first TEPCO reactors to receive approval since the nuclear disaster at the TEPCO operated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

“The NRA’s decision to grant approval to TEPCO’s reactors is reckless. It’s the same disregard for nuclear risks that resulted in TEPCO’s 2011 triple reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi site,” said Shaun Burnie, Senior Nuclear Specialist with of Greenpeace Germany. “Approving the safety of reactors at the world’s largest nuclear plant, when it is at extreme risk from major earthquakes completely exposes the weakness of Japan’s nuclear regulator,” said Burnie.

Twenty-three seismic fault lines run through the TEPCO site, located in Niigata prefecture. The utility admitted earlier this year that due to the soft sand under the site, areas of the plant are vulnerable to soil liquefaction.(1)

Despite the NRA decision to grant TEPCO this preliminary safety approval, there is no prospect for the Kashiwazaki Kariwa 6 and 7 reactors to restart in the near future. Such a restart is opposed by the Niigata Governor and a majority of the citizens of the prefecture. The Governor launched a new technical investigation into the causes and impact of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster this summer. He will not decide on whether to approve restart until the assessment is completed in 2020.

In addition, a citizen-led lawsuit against the restart of the Kashiwazaki reactors is currently underway in the Niigata courts, centered on the seismic risks at the site.(2)

“This attempt to restart reactors at the Kashiwazaki Kariwa site is a last-ditch effort to save TEPCO’s nuclear business. Powerful political and public opposition remains and means that these reactors will not restart for at least the next several years. TEPCO should abandon its futile efforts to restart seismically vulnerable reactors and instead focus on dealing with the ongoing nuclear crisis at Fukushima Daiichi,” said Hisayo Takada, Energy Project Lead of Greenpeace Japan.

In July, the NRA had warned TEPCO that it would not approve a safety review for the two reactors unless the utility takes a more active and responsible approach to the decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi. This decision to grant preliminary approval flies in the face of that warning and exposes the regulator as a paper tiger. Since July 2017, TEPCO has made no major progress at the crippled Fukushima site. It still does not know where hundreds of tonnes of molten reactor fuel is located, continues to have a radioactive water crisis at the site, and has no credible plan for decommissioning.

Meanwhile, the costs for its ongoing nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi continue to climb. An estimate from a Tokyo economics think tank earlier this year warned that the cost of decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi plant, plus decontamination and compensation, could range between 50-70 trillion yen (US$449-628 billion).(3)

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