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Editorial: TEPCO's nuclear reactor decommissioning announcement too vague

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (TEPCO) has announced for the first time it will consider decommissioning one or more of the first five reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in central Japan.

However restarting reactor Nos. 6 and 7 at the plant, which straddles Kashiwazaki and Kariwa, Niigata Prefecture, would be a prerequisite for decommissioning the reactors, the company says. Another condition is the introduction of renewable energy to replace the decommissioned reactors as sources of power that do not emit greenhouse gases.

Kashiwazaki Mayor Masahiro Sakurai earlier requested that the company draw up plans for decommissioning as a prerequisite for judging whether to allow the restart of reactor Nos. 6 and 7. But TEPCO's vague decommissioning announcement with layered conditions simply appears to be a maneuver to advance procedures to restart the reactors.

With a total of seven nuclear reactors, the output of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant is one of the biggest in the world, and before the Fukushima nuclear disaster, it was a major money earner for TEPCO. On the flip side, its central location has been singled out as a hazard in the event of a nuclear disaster.

After the Chuetsu Offshore Earthquake caused damage in Niigata Prefecture in 2007, all reactors at the plant were taken offline. Local residents have strong reservations about restarting them, and such feelings were reflected in the mayor's request for a decommissioning plan from TEPCO.

TEPCO probably doesn't want to decommission the reactors, as it can expect to improve its balances by 60 billion to 130 billion yen a year for each reactor it restarts. The firm is saddled with huge expenses stemming from the March 2011 nuclear disaster at its Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, and under a reconstruction plan that it formulated with the central government, it had envisaged restarting all reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.

The fact it announced it would consider decommissioning some reactors in spite of this probably came from a growing sense of impatience about not even being able to restart reactors Nos. 6 and 7, which have passed screening by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, without the consent of the city hosting the plant.

TEPCO stresses that if it doesn't restart the nuclear reactors, it won't be able to secure the necessary funds to deal with the Fukushima nuclear disaster. But reactivation of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors is a separate issue from the Fukushima disaster. Obtaining consent from the area hosting the plant, which includes the Niigata Prefectural Government, stands as a basic premise.

The cost of measures to ensure the safety of the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors has ballooned to 1.169 trillion yen -- 1.7 times the initial prediction. It is possible that the financial gains from restarting the reactors may be significantly lower than originally envisaged.

The Niigata Prefectural Government remains hesitant about restarting the two reactors, and in reality, it would be difficult to have them up and running by fiscal 2021, as TEPCO hopes.

TEPCO is set to discuss a review of its reconstruction plan with the central government this fiscal year. It should revise the plans with a square look at the fact that the environment for operating nuclear power plants has become much tougher.

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