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April 8, 2009 6:13 pm
Japan is expected to restart the world’s biggest nuclear power plant shortly – nearly two years after it was damaged by an earthquake.
The prolonged shutdown of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant’s seven reactors knocked Tokyo Electric Power into the red and threatened Tokyo with electricity shortages during the hot summer months, when air-conditioner use pushes up demand.
The facility accounts for 13 per cent of Tepco’s generating capacity and without it the company has been forced to rely on more expensive coal, oil and gas plants.
The central government certified Kashiwazaki-Kariwa as safe in February but local authorities asked for further reassurances from Tepco. In addition to repairing cracks and other damage from the magnitude 6.8 earthquake, the company had been asked to make upgrades to guard against future natural disasters.
The July 2007 earthquake caused a small leak of radioactive waste water, and subsequent inspection found that the plant had been built much closer to a seismic fault line than was previously believed.
On Tuesday a safety committee representing municipal governments in Niigata, the prefecture north-west of Tokyo where the planT is located, formally accepted the central government’s assessment. Hirohiko Izumida, the governor of Niigata and a critic of Tepco’s record, said he concurred with the committee’s verdict.
Local mayors also spoke out in favour of restarting the plant Wednesday.
Although there was still no firm date for restarting the facility, analysts said Tepco should be able to bring it back online before the summer. Repairing the plant has cost the company about Y164bn ($1.6bn) on top of soaring fuel procurement costs.
In addition, Tepco has promised to invest Y669bn in company-wide safety measures in the business year starting this month – an increase of 14 per cent over last year’s already beefed-up safety budget.
Tepco sells electricity to 28m customers around Tokyo and relies on nuclear power for about 30 per cent of its 64.3mKW generating capacity when all its atomic stations are included. It has pressed thermal plants back into service to make up for the loss of nuclear capacity.
The Japanese government is pushing hard to raise nuclear energy’s share of total power generation to 40 per cent by 2030, up from 30 per cent today. But years of accidents and cover-ups have left the country’s industry struggling to win the public’s trust.
Tepco temporarily shut all 17 of its nuclear reactors in 2003 after it was caught doctoring safety reports. Since the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant was switched off at least two other plants operated by different utilities have shut down after suffering technical failures.
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