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Prospect uncertain for Tokai No. 2 nuke plant restart despite extension application

The halted Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, is pictured in this file photo taken from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter. (Mainichi)

Even as Tokai No. 2 nuclear plant operator Japan Atomic Power Co. seeks Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) permission to extend the life of the station's sole reactor by 20 years, there appears no prospect the plant can be restarted in the foreseeable future.

Japan Atomic is seeking to add to the reactor's 40-year operational lifespan in order to restart the plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture. However, the company has not determined how it can fund the massive cost of necessary safety upgrades, while it also remains to be seen if local governments around the plant will consent to reactivation.

The NRA estimates that safety measures, including the construction of a coastal levee to protect the plant from a massive tsunami, will cost the utility some 180 billion yen. Additionally, terror countermeasures will cost the operator some 100 billion yen.

All of Japan Atomic's reactors are currently offline, and it is relying heavily on base fees from five major power companies with which the company has electric power sales contracts. Therefore, the firm cannot easily invest large sums in safety measures. The firm believes the Tokai No. 2 plant could be restarted relatively easily, but if it is not, and the firm continues to have no electricity to sell, Japan Atomic's financial future will be in jeopardy.

To prevent this, Japan Atomic needs loan guarantees from other power companies so that it can borrow from banks the enormous amounts of cash needed to implement safety measures at the plant.

However, Japan Atomic's largest customer, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Holdings, Inc., is already on the hook for about 16 trillion yen to decommission the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and pay compensation to those affected by the nuclear disaster. TEPCO Holdings could come under fire from the public if it guaranteed loans for another company at the same time as TEPCO itself must cover the cost of dealing with the nuclear disaster.

Some TEPCO insiders point out that if the restart of the Tokai No. 2 plant was delayed, TEPCO's power purchase contract would not pay, and that any loan guarantees for Japan Atomic would also be highly risky.

Moreover, it remains unclear whether Japan Atomic can gain consent for reactivation from the local communities hosting the plant. The firm is holding talks with a consultative body comprising six municipalities within 30 kilometers of the Tokai No. 2 station to review their nuclear power plant safety agreement.

Japan Atomic offered to sign an agreement on Nov. 22 with all six municipalities, including Tokai, that would effectively give these local bodies the right to approve or disapprove the plant's reactivation.

Nuclear plant restarts since the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear disaster have managed to gain consent from the local prefectural government as well as municipalities concerned. However, there is a possibility that local bodies in a broader area will require Japan Atomic to seek their approval for a Tokai No. 2 plant reactivation, depending on the content of the new agreement.

About 1 million people live within 30 kilometers of the Tokai No. 2 plant -- making it the most heavily populated such zone in the country. Local bodies in this zone are struggling to work out evacuation plans for local residents in case of a nuclear accident.

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