Kashiwazaki-Kariwa: Japan to Resume World’s largest Nuclear Power Plant

Japan’s nuclear power regulator made a decision to lift the operational ban on Tokyo Electric Power’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, This comes two years after the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) imposed the ban, citing safety breaches and concerns about the facility’s preparedness.

Kashiwazaki-Kariwa: Japan to Resume World's largest Nuclear Power Plant

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Tepco, the operator of the plant, has long been eager to bring the world’s largest atomic power plant back online to reduce operating costs.

The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant has capacity of 8,212 megawatts (MW) and has been offline since 2012 following the Fukushima disaster, which led to the shutdown of all nuclear power plants in Japan at that time.

The NRA’s decision in 2021 to bar Tepco from operating the plant was a response to safety breaches, including the failure to protect nuclear materials and unauthorized access to sensitive areas of the facility.

The NRA’s ban was not without reason, as Tepco faced criticism for lax safety measures and insufficient antiterrorism protocols.

However, recent inspections and improvements in the safety management system made the regulatory body to lift the corrective action order that prevented Tepco from transporting new uranium fuel to the plant or loading fuel rods into its reactors.

The resumption of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant requires approval from local governments, including Niigata prefecture, Kashiwazaki city, and Kariwa village, where the facility is located.

Tepco’s commitment to regaining the trust of the local community and society at large is evident, as said by its statement following the NRA’s decision.

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Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshimasa Hayashi, addressed the government’s commitment to seeking understanding and cooperation from Niigata prefecture and local communities, with a strong on a safety-first approach.

The government’s role in aiding the restart process balance between energy needs and public safety. Resource poor Japan has a vested interest in reducing its reliance on imported fossil fuels, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Restarting nuclear power plants, including the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa facility, with the country’s energy strategy.

The Institute of Energy Economics, Japan (IEEJ), forecasts a decline in LNG imports, factoring in the restarts of nuclear reactors and an increase in renewable energy sources.

The decision by the NRA to lift the operational ban had an impact on the market, with shares in Tepco experiencing a sharp rise.

The world’s largest nuclear plant resuming operations has energy sector but also for Tepco’s financial outlook.

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The Fukushima disaster in 2011 had an impact on Japan’s nuclear energy, leading to the shutdown of multiple reactors and a reevaluation of safety measures.

The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant itself faced challenges, including partial damage from a 2007 earthquake, contributing to local distrust.

Before the reactors can restart, Tepco must secure the consent of nearby residents and local governments. The role of local governance and the consideration of public opinion in Niigata prefecture are factors that will influence the timeline and feasibility of the plant’s restart.

Tepco faces the dual challenge of managing the growing costs of decommissioning the Fukushima plant, which was severely affected by the 2011 disaster, and compensating residents impacted by the catastrophe.

While the NRA’s decision to lift the operational ban is a positive development, regulatory oversight remains crucial.

The NRA Chair addressed that this is just the beginning and that Tepco must continue improving its safety precautions.

Japan’s policy shift, under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, aims to maximize nuclear energy’s contribution to the country’s energy supply, reversing the phase-out plan. Nuclear power is positioned as an element, constituting more than one-fifth of Japan’s energy supply.

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