Local Government to Decide on Restart of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Plant; Niigata Governor Considering Holding Election on the Issue.

Local Decision to Determine Restart of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Plant

In a significant development, the Niigata Prefecture has lifted a ban on the operation of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant on Wednesday, allowing for a decision on the restart to be made by the locals in the area. This comes after a hiatus of two years and eight months, with the procedures for restarting the plant set to move forward.

The operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., has pledged to provide comprehensive explanations to the Niigata prefectural government and other stakeholders from the beginning of next year, as it seeks to secure the support for the plant’s restart in the region.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has endorsed the decision, citing improvements in both hardware and policy at the plants. The NRA’s assessment concluded that the company’s efforts to establish a Physical Protection Monitoring Office and enhance communication with subcontractors have enabled prompt responses to various on-site issues.

Moreover, hardware improvements, such as equipment upgrades suitable for natural conditions, have significantly reduced technical problems, indicating a positive trajectory for the plant’s operations.

In response to the decision, TEPCO President Tomoaki Kobayakawa expressed their commitment to continuous improvement, emphasizing that they view the decision as an opportunity to refocus their efforts.

However, the decision about the plant’s restart will be heavily influenced by the opinions of the local residents, with Niigata Gov. Hideyo Hanazumi indicating that discussions in the prefectural assembly, a referendum, and a gubernatorial reelection will provide a means to ascertain the residents’ will. However, there are concerns within the local community that a gubernatorial reelection could set a precedent for questioning national policies, prompting a broader conversation about how best to gauge public opinion.

From an economic perspective, TEPCO stands to gain substantial cost savings from the restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, with estimates suggesting that the resumption of two reactors could result in annual savings of ¥120 billion in fuel costs for thermal power generation. This could potentially lead to a reduction in electricity rates, which are currently 20% higher than other utility providers.

As the decision to restart the plant rests with the locals, TEPCO and the government are keen on regaining the trust of the community and ensuring that the company becomes an organization capable of improving on its own. Economy, Trade, and Industry Minister Ken Saito emphasized the importance of TEPCO restoring lost trust and requested a detailed report on measures to rebuild confidence in the coming year.

With the potential restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant hanging in the balance, the decisions and discussions at the local level are expected to shape the future of nuclear power generation in the region.

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