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Local gov'ts of areas hosting nuke plant in Niigata Pref. divided over reactivation

Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama, left, talks with Masaya Kitta, second from right, head of TEPCO Niigata regional headquarters, at the Niigata Prefectural Government building on Dec. 27, 2017. (Mainichi)

NIIGATA -- There are no prospects that two reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant, which have passed a safety review by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), will be restarted in the foreseeable future, as local bodies hosting the plant remain divided over the issue.

The mayors of the city of Kashiwazaki and the village of Kariwa, which jointly host the power station, are in favor of reactivating the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors at the plant owned by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (TEPCO).

Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama, on the other hand, remains cautious about the resumption of the units' operations.

Gov. Yoneyama told Masaya Kitta, head of TEPCO's Niigata regional headquarters who visited the governor on Dec. 27 that the prefectural government cannot agree on the early reactivation of the plant.

"I have no intention of objecting to the decision by the NRA, but our position is that we can't start talks on reactivation unless our examination of three-point checks progresses," Yoneyama told Kitta. The governor was referring to his policy of not sitting at the negotiation table over reactivation unless three points are examined by the prefectural government: the cause of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, potential effects on people's livelihoods as well as health in case of an accident, and safe evacuation measures. He has stated that it would take two to three years to complete the checks of these points.

The governor also told Kitta, "Our examination will never be affected" by the NRA's judgment that the plant meets the new safety standards. Moreover, the prefectural government is poised to independently examine the outcome of the NRA's safety review of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power station.

Kashiwazaki Mayor Masahiro Sakurai and Kariwa Mayor Hiroo Shinada were separately briefed by plant manager Chikashi Shitara on the outcome of the NRA safety review of the facility.

Both mayors have expressed their appreciation for TEPCO's response up to this point, and Sakurai urged the power company to "make efforts to reassure local residents (about the nuclear plant)," while Shinada urged the utility to "try to provide information in an appropriate manner."

In the meantime, if the reactivation of the atomic power station is to be delayed, there is a possibility that the national government's grants to the host municipalities will be reduced.

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry is continuing to provide such grants to local bodies hosting idled nuclear plants by deeming them to be running plants in some form. In April 2016, the national government revised its rules on grants to nuclear plant host municipalities and decided to reduce the amount of funding if the facilities are not restarted within nine months after the completion of the NRA's safety review, which is necessary for reactivation.

The No. 6 and 7 reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant need to pass two more inspections within a year. If it takes several years to form a consensus among the local governments concerned, however, grants will be reduced in fiscal 2020 at the earliest. The amounts of reductions are estimated at some 400 million yen for Kariwa, about 100 million yen for Kashiwazaki and approximately 740 million yen for Niigata Prefecture.

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