Monday, October 28, 2013

Reuters' Interview of Governor of Niigata: "Tepco can't yet be trusted to restart world's biggest nuclear plant (Kashiwazaki-Kariwa NPP)"

Governor of Niigata Prefecture Hirohiko Izumida continues to make media rounds after he finally "allowed" (he has no legal authority either way) TEPCO on September 25, 2013 to apply for inspection of its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant by Nuclear Regulation Authority, a prerequisite for the restart of the 7-reactor plant with the capacity of 7,965 MW.

In his interview with Reuters, he continues his spiel of "TEPCO is lying" and "cannot be trusted".

One thing that got my attention in the Reuters' article in English is an erroneous mention by Reuters as Governor Izumida having authority to approve or disapprove the restart:

Izumida must approve the embattled utility's plans to restart the reactors at Kashiwazaki Kariwa, the world's biggest nuclear complex on the Japan Sea coast some 300 kms (180 miles) northwest of Tokyo.

Well that's wrong; he isn't required to "approve" anything at all, as his "agreement" with TEPCO is nothing but a "gentlemen's agreement" with no legal binding. The above mention is absent in Reuters' Japanese article.

Besides, local officials in Kashiwazaki City and Kariwa-mura are in favor of the restart.

From Reuters English (10/28/2013; emphasis is mine):

Tepco can't yet be trusted to restart world's biggest nuclear plant: governor

(Reuters) - Tokyo Electric Power Co must give a fuller account of the Fukushima disaster and address its "institutionalized lying" before it can expect to restart another nuclear station, the world's largest, said a local government official who holds an effective veto over the utility's revival plan.

"If they don't do what needs to be done, if they keep skimping on costs and manipulating information, they can never be trusted," Niigata Prefecture Governor Hirohiko Izumida told Reuters in an interview on Monday.

Izumida must approve the embattled utility's plans to restart the reactors at Kashiwazaki Kariwa, the world's biggest nuclear complex on the Japan Sea coast some 300 kms (180 miles) northwest of Tokyo.

A former economy and trade ministry bureaucrat who has emerged as a leading critic of Tokyo Electric, or Tepco, Izumida said he would launch his own commission to investigate the causes and handling of the Fukushima crisis and whether strengthened regulatory safeguards were sufficient to prevent a similar disaster.

Izumida, 51, declined to provide a timetable for completing that review - a process that could force the utility to scrap or abandon one of the key assumptions behind its turnaround plan.

"If Tokyo Electric doesn't cooperate closely with the prefecture nothing will be solved," he said. "Unless we start we won't know," he added when asked how long his review could take. "If they cooperate with us, we will be able to proceed smoothly. If not, we won't."

Even if Japan's nuclear safety regulators approve Tepco's restart plans for its Niigata reactors, Izumida can effectively block it because of the utility's need to win backing from local officials. That gives Izumida, a political independent, a platform for calling for a wider reform of Asia's largest listed electricity utility, which provides power to 29 million homes and businesses in and around Tokyo.


Izumida urged Japan's government to strip Tepco of responsibility for decommissioning the wrecked Fukushima reactors, and consider putting it through a taxpayer-funded bankruptcy similar to the process used to restructure Japan Airlines.

Without that kind of sweeping restructuring, Izumida said, Tepco could be left without the resources needed to ensure the safety of its remaining nuclear plants.

In its current form, the utility threatens to be distracted by how to fund the dismantling of the Fukushima reactors over the next 30 years and the more immediate problem of containing contaminated water at the Fukushima site, Izumida said.

"Unless we create a situation where 80-90 percent of their thinking is devoted to nuclear safety, I don't think we can say they have prioritized safety," he said.

Izumida also called on the government to make more than 6,000 workers involved in decommissioning at Fukushima public employees. A Reuters investigation of working conditions at the plant found widespread abuses, including skimmed wages and the involvement of illegal brokers.

"The workers at the plant are risking their health and giving it their all. They are out in the rain. They are out at night," Izumida said. "The government needs to respect their efforts and address the situation."

A Tepco spokesman said the utility would cooperate with Izumida's investigation. "Safety is our utmost priority and we are not acting on an assumption of nuclear restarts," said Yoshimi Hitotsugi. "We want to work on this issue while gaining the understanding of the local population and related parties."


Tepco has posted more than $27 billion in losses since a massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 crippled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. The disaster knocked out cooling systems, triggered meltdowns in three reactors and a radiation release that forced more than 150,000 people from nearby towns to evacuate.

It is behind schedule on its initial business turnaround plan, which had called for firing up at least one reactor at Kashiwazaki Kariwa by April.

The utility says it can return to profitability in the business year to March without restarting the sprawling complex. But if all seven of the Niigata reactors were operational, Tepco says it would save $1 billion in monthly fuel costs.

The utility's admission in July - following months of denials - that the Fukushima plant was leaking radioactive substances into the Pacific Ocean was evidence that Tepco has not changed, Izumida said, adding the utility developed a culture of "institutionalized lying."

He said that unless the utility changes its corporate culture he won't be able to trust it to run the nuclear plant in the prefecture.

"There are three things required of a company that runs nuclear power plants: don't lie, keep your promises and fulfill your social responsibility," Izumida said.

(Editing by Kevin Krolicki, Edmund Klamann and Ian Geoghegan)

For a Japanese politician to accuse a large Japanese corporation of "institutionalized lying" seems to me the proverbial pot calling the kettle black. But his fans in Japan continue to make an exception out of Mr. Izumida, a career elite bureaucrat turned politician.

His fans adore him no matter what, and they have been coming up with tortuous articles and blogposts trying to rationalize Izumida's decision in September to "approve" the application so that Izumida somehow comes out as a champion for the anti-nuclear crowd. Their logic (or lack thereof) is so tortuous I have given up trying to understand.

I wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Izumida is contemplating a run for the national office, probably Upper House seat as a national candidate to capitalize on his fame as anti-TEPCO politician "who really cares for us", as per many of his fans.


Anonymous said...

Forgive me if my thinking arises from complete ignorance of Japanese politics, culture, etc. but I simply have to ask: Potentially self-serving political motives aside, isn't it a good thing that someone speaks up for improving the safety culture at TEPCO and timely/complete release of information to the public as well as the work conditions for the Fukushima workers?

Anonymous said...

mscharisma, this governor wants attention for his grand-standing. He wants to be the one who ultimately "decides" whether or not to "allow" TEPCO to vent in case of a severe nuclear accident that could lead to core melt. And he calls it "safety for the residents". I guess he'd rather see the 7-reactor meltdown than potentially exposing the residents to noble gas (filtered vent cannot prevent the gas from escaping).

It's almost funny that he finally latches on to workers welfare, as it is getting to be a popular topic on the net/social media in Japan.

Anonymous said...

@1:26 In the first place I fail to understand why people keep using a technology that has a "containment" and a hole in the containment (the vent) to let the s**t out.
If Izumida is serious about his people safety he should do whatever he can to avoid the restart of the KK plant.

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