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Much opposition and anxiety, as Japan prepares to restart the biggest nuclear station in the world

Japan’s Tepco fights for return to nuclear power after Fukushima, DW, 11 Mar 19 
Eight years after the accident in Fukushima, preparations are underway to restart the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant operated by Tepco. But residents fear a second disaster. Kiyo Dörrer reports from Kashiwazaki.

Decades ago, nuclear power was supposed to be the perfect solution for Japan’s thirst for energy and for its rural economies. And in the sleepy town of Kashiwazaki, in the prefecture next to Fukushima, the solution was supposed to be the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, run by the power company Tepco — the company responsible for the 2011 Fukushima accident.

When in full operation, the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power plant is the biggest in the world, capable of servicing 16 million households. But all of its seven reactors have been idle since the nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi. This is Tepco’s only remaining nuclear power plant apart from the tsunami-stricken plants in Fukushima, in the neighboring prefecture.

Tepco has been repeatedly criticized for its negligence and has been ordered to pay compensation to the residents. The cleanup of the Fukushima power plant has been causing major headaches, while the reasons for the accident have yet to be clarified even eight years later.

But amid the controversy, in 2017 Japan’s nuclear regulation authority gave the go-ahead to launch the lengthy process toward a restart of two of Tepco’s reactors, which are located about 250 km (155 miles) east of the Fukushima plants, on the coast of the Sea of Japan. The reactors No. 6 and No. 7 at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power plant, which are being prepared for a restart, are both the same type as those that melted down in Fukushima.

This time everything is going to be different, the deputy head of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, Toshimitsu Tamai, assures visitors on a tour of the facility. To banish fears of a second Fukushima, Tepco has built a 15-meter (49-foot) wall that is supposed to be able to withstand the highest tsunamis imaginable………..

Majority of residents against the nuclear reactors

But the local residents aren’t all buying Tepco’s story. Hopes of an economic boost ring hollow in the almost deserted shopping streets; the once bustling town center is now full of shuttered storefronts. Like many other country towns, Kashiwazaki has fallen victim to economic problems caused by the aging population and a growing rural exodus — trends no nuclear power plant can change.

According to the exit polls held in last year’s governor’s race, over 60 percent of residents of Niigata Prefecture, in which Kashiwazaki lies, are against the restart of the nuclear power plant. Locals have been alarmed by multiple mishaps during the preparations. In December 2018, the cables connecting reactor No. 7 with emergency backup power caused a fire for unknown reasons. And as recently as February 28, radioactive water leaked out of the core inside one of the idle reactors.

“To be honest, we just keep thinking: not again! They take one step forward and three steps back,” says Tsutomu Oribe, who runs a sushi restaurant in central Kashiwazaki. “We’ve all learned too well what could happen.”

“I don’t think that anybody should entrust Tepco with restarting a nuclear power plant if the company doesn’t even know what happened in Fukushima,” says Kazuyuki Takemoto, a retired local councilor and veteran anti-nuclear activist.

March 12, 2019 - Posted by | Japan, politics

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