TEMPO.CO, Tokyo - Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) said on Wednesday, April 14, that Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), operator of the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, will be prevented from restarting its only operable atomic power station after safety breaches at the facility were uncovered last year.
The move deals a major blow to Tepco’s hopes of restarting the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa station, the world’s biggest atomic power plant with capacity of 8,212 megawatts, in a quest to slash the utility’s operating costs by more than $800 million a year.
Tepco suffered a barrage of criticism in March when the failings came to light, including security mis-steps that led to an unauthorised staff member accessing sensitive areas of the plant. Japan’s industry minister said at the time Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant would not be restarted any time soon, as regulators slammed the breaches, which included failure to protect nuclear materials.
The NRA will later on Wednesday issue a corrective action order addressed to Tepco, preventing it from transporting new uranium fuel to Kashiwazaki-Kariwa or loading fuel rods into its reactors - effectively stopping it from restarting them.
The step is the first time the NRA has ordered such action since it was established in 2012 as a new agency following regulatory failings that came to light during the Fukushima disaster in 2011, Kyodo News said. The NRA could not immediately confirm that.
Tepco did not immediately comment on the move but earlier said it would not contest the regulator’s findings. Its shares fell nearly 4% by early afternoon trading in Tokyo, while the broader market was down around 0.5%.
In accordance with Wednesday’s move by the watchdog, Tepco must submit a report to the NRA by Sept. 23 detailing improvements in handling nuclear materials. The NRA will assess these before removing the corrective order, the watchdog has said, a process that could take at least a year.
Tepco has said it can save 90 billion yen ($827 million) in fuel costs annually by getting reactors number 6 and 7 at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa restarted.
The 1,356 megawatt units have been off-line since at least 2012 and are the only ones at the station that have received basic preliminary licenses to operate.