Tokyo Electric Power Company (TSE:9501) has received approval to operate nuclear reactors for the first time since the Fukushima disaster in 2011.
Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) gave Tepco the go ahead to restart the No. 6 and No.7 reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant this week following a month of public hearings.
During those discussions, the NRA determined that Tepco was fit to run a nuclear power plant and deemed that the two reactors adhere to new safety standards introduced after the crisis six years ago.
“As the operator responsible for the Fukushima accident, we’re committed to learning lessons, revisiting what went wrong and implementing what we learned here at Kashiwazaki-kariwa,” the Guardian quotes Chikashi Shitara, the plant’s chief, as saying. “We are always looking at ways to improve safety.”
The Fukushima disaster took place in March 2011 at Tepco’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after an earthquake triggered a tsunami. After the earthquake, the active reactors at the plant shut down; however, the tsunami disabled the emergency generators that should have powered cooling mechanisms for the reactors. Their failure had a number of effects, including three nuclear meltdowns.
Tepco is confident that a repeat will not occur. “Because of our experience at Fukushima, we’re committed to not making the same mistakes again — to make the safety regime even stronger. That’s what we have to explain to members of the public,” said Shitara.
But not everyone has that certainty. As mentioned, Tepco went through a month of public hearings before receiving NRA approval for the two reactor restarts, and some attendees voiced concerns during that time. As the Japan Times notes, a number of them even “shout[ed] their disapproval.”
What’s more, last year anti-nuclear candidate Ryuichi Yoneyama was elected governor of Niigata prefecture, where the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant is located. Tepco’s two reactor restarts are scheduled to take place in 2019, but Yoneyama’s approval will be required. He has said he won’t make a decision until a new committee completes a report on the causes and consequences of the Fukushima disaster.
In addition to drastically affecting the surrounding area, the Fukushima incident sparked a precipitous drop in uranium prices as Japan shut down most of its reactors. U3O8 spot prices have declined from above $70 per pound at the time of the disaster to the current price of just above $20.
Tepco’s two reactors are the 13th and 14th to receive NRA approval to restart under the new standards put in place after 2011. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing for more restarts, and hopes to see about 20 percent of Japan’s electricity generated by nuclear power by 2030; meeting that goal would require the restart of 30 reactors.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Charlotte McLeod, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.