JAPAN | Govt opinions divided over N-plants

Posted on August 9, 2011


JAPAN | YOMIURI | 9 August 2011

NIIGATA–Opinions have been divided over the restart of operations of reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, among local governments that host the plant in Niigata Prefecture.

Among the world’s largest nuclear power facilities, the plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. is located on the border of Kashiwazaki and Kariwamura in the prefecture. It halted its No. 1 reactor Saturday for scheduled inspections.

On Aug. 23, the operation of the plant’s No. 7 reactor is slated to be suspended for regular inspections. Consequently, the number of reactors to be halted will number five out of seven at the plant as TEPCO has been unable to resume operations of the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 reactors following the 2007 Niigata Prefecture Chuetsu Offshore Earthquake.

While there is fear among local residents over safety regarding the restart of the reactors, there is also concern over the possible negative impact on the local economy resulting from a prolonged suspension of the reactors.

At the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, the main facilities are located about 100 to 200 meters from the Sea of Japan.

After the nuclear crisis in Fukushima Prefecture, following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, TEPCO set up barriers–steel plates of about five meters in height–at 25 locations around the nuclear reactor building of the No. 1 reactor to protect against tsunami.

While regular inspections are in progress, TEPCO has continued to improve countermeasures against tsunami.

Before the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred, TEPCO had estimated the maximum tsunami height to be 3.3 meters. The company is now developing countermeasures against tsunami as high as 15 meters.

However, the suspended reactors are required to pass self-administered stress tests, which Prime Minister Naoto Kan introduced, and TEPCO needs to obtain permission from local governments before it reactivates the reactors.

Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida maintains he cannot allow the restart of the suspended reactors, even if they pass the stress tests.

“Stress tests are only meant to make people feel better. The crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant should be resolved first. We’re not at the stage for discussing the restart [of the reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant],” he said.

Kashiwazaki Mayor Hiroshi Aida also takes a cautious view of a possible restart.

“It’s necessary for the central government to drastically revise its safety standards. But it hasn’t made its position on the matter clear yet,” he said.


N-power benefits localities

However, Kariwamura Mayor Hiroo Shinada supports the immediate restart of the reactors, saying, “If their safety is confirmed, [their operation] should be started immediately.”

At the center of the village with a population of 4,874, there is a community center, Life Learning Center Rapika, with a library, athletic facilities and event space.

The total cost of the facility, which opened in 1999, was 6.3 billion yen. About 90 percent of that was covered by subsidies related to the nuclear power plant.

Subsidies from the central government are generally poured into local governments that host nuclear power plants, and are for road construction and repair as well as public facilities.

In the fiscal 2011 budget of Kariwamura, revenues related to the nuclear power plant account for 3.4 billion yen, or 39 percent of the total. In case of Kashiwazaki, revenues from nuclear plant-related programs account for 7.8 billion yen, or 15 percent of the total.

If there is a prolonged suspension of the nuclear reactors, the local governments will likely be forced to cut their budgets.


Jobs to be affected

The suspension of the reactors also significantly affects the employment situation in the region. A total of 6,603 TEPCO employees and subcontractors were working at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant as of July 1.

According to a Kashiwazaki city assembly member, one out of four households in Kariwamura has family members who have nuclear-related jobs, while one out of 10 in Kashiwazaki has those with plant-related jobs.

Yamada Kogyo Co. in Kashiwazaki provides nuclear reactor maintenance services and relies on TEPCO for about 60 percent of its revenues.

Yamada Kogyo President Akinori Tokuma said he has to find other work as soon as possible, because TEPCO has already notified his company that it would reduce work orders after the Great East Japan Earthquake.

There are 771 companies in the prefecture that conduct business with the nuclear power plant, mostly in Kashiwazaki and Kariwamura. Worries have been spreading among these companies since nobody knows when the reactors will resume operations.

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