The world’s biggest nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture is no longer subject to operational ban in Japan

After two years, Japan’s nuclear power regulator has lifted the operational ban on Tokyo Electric Power Co’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, allowing the company to work towards local permission to restart.

The lifting of the ban opens the door for TEPCO to bring the world’s largest nuclear power plant back online, which has been offline since 2012 following the Fukushima disaster. However, gaining consent from local governments in Niigata Prefecture, Kashiwazaki city, and Kariwa village is still necessary before a resumption can occur.

It remains unclear when the restart might happen, but TEPCO is eager to bring the plant back online to reduce operating costs.

The plant, with a capacity of 8,212 megawatts, has been offline since the Fukushima disaster in 2011 that led to the shutdown of all nuclear power plants in Japan at the time.

In 2021, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) barred TEPCO from operating Kashiwazaki-Kariwa due to safety breaches, which included failure to protect nuclear materials and unauthorized access to sensitive areas of the plant.

Following improvements in the safety management system, the NRA lifted a corrective action order on Wednesday, allowing TEPCO to transport new uranium fuel to the plant and load fuel rods into its reactors, effectively removing the block on resuming operations.

TEPCO stated that it would continue efforts to regain the trust of the local community and the wider society, while the Japanese government expressed its intent to aid the process.

“The government will seek the understanding and cooperation of Niigata Prefecture and local communities, emphasizing ‘safety-first,'” said Yoshimasa Hayashi, the government’s chief cabinet secretary.

As a resource-poor country, Japan is keen to reduce its reliance on imported fossil fuels such as LNG by bringing more nuclear power plants online. The Institute of Energy Economics, Japan (IEEJ) has forecasted a decline in Japan’s LNG imports with the anticipated restart of nuclear reactors and an increase in renewable energy sources.

Shares in Tepco surged after the NRA indicated that it would consider lifting the operational ban following an on-site inspection and a meeting with the company’s president earlier this month.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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