A year has passed since the Niigata Prefecture Chuetsu Offshore Earthquake, but the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) is not likely to resume operations soon.
On July 16 last year, a quake measuring 7 on the Japanese seismic scale of 7 was registered at the compound of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant. The quake's epicenter was close to the plant.
Four of seven reactors there were in operation or were being brought online. However, they all automatically stopped operating after the powerful jolts.
During the quake, an outdoor electric transformer caught fire and radioactive material from a spent fuel storage pool leaked into the sea. However, main plant equipment, including reactors, sustained no major damage.
The International Atomic Energy Agency inspected the plant twice and confirmed that it had not suffered serious damage.
Diligent attention to safety during the plant's design is believed to have been instrumental in preventing a disaster. However, it takes time to confirm whether unseen damage and warping in machines and buildings have occurred.
Earthquake reinforcement to withstand tremors with a ground acceleration of up to 1,000 gals--including additional support structures for pipes--began at the plant last month. During last year's earthquake, acceleration of up to 680 gals was detected.
At present, it is unclear when the plant will resume operations and TEPCO has yet to announce even a target resumption date.
The seven nuclear power reactors, which together are capable of generating the most kilowatts (8.21 million) of electricity anywhere the world, will remain shut down this summer.
The operational suspension also has dealt a blow to the local economy.
When he was asked at a June press conference whether there was still room for implementing fiscal reconstruction measures, such as integrating city-owned facilities, Kashiwazaki Mayor Hiroshi Aida said,"We did everything we could [to cut expenses]."
The city's financial situation is in tatters. As of fiscal 2006, revenues related to the nuclear plant accounted for about 20 percent of the city's 46 billion yen total general account revenue.
Because of the power plant's operational suspension, however, the city will not receive its annual 500 million yen from the prefectural government as allocation from revenues from the prefectural nuclear fuel tax in fiscal 2008. In addition, the city will not be able to receive tax revenues from TEPCO. TEPCO will not be required to pay corporate taxes because it has plunged into the red.
Starting in fiscal 2009, Kashiwazaki's general account will have a negative balance. Even if the nuclear plant resumes operations in fiscal 2010, the city likely will be saddled with a debt of about 2.5 billion yen, as the city has to begin redeeming bonds it issued for reconstruction after the disaster.
Aida said the city is in a state of fiscal emergency.
Kariwamura's financial situation is no different. About 65 percent of Kariwamura's fiscal 2006 4 billion yen general account revenues were related to the nuclear power plant.
Kariwamura Mayor Hiroo Shinada said he hoped TEPCO would return the plant's operations to their original state as soon as possible.
The nuclear plant has a significant economic impact on the area. According to TEPCO, about half of the plant's 7,600 employees were locally hired.
Construction projects awarded to local companies and purchases from local firms totaled 3.86 billion yen in fiscal 2005.
A 51-year-old man who works for a company that does jobs for the nuclear power plant said a prolonged suspension would reduce his company's work.
Many local people are calling for an early resumption of plant operations, saying without it there will be fewer people on the streets and the city will suffer.
When can TEPCO resume plant operations?
Approval from the Kashiwazaki mayor, Kariwamura mayor and prefectural governor is needed for TEPCO to reopen the plant. All three seats are up for election between October and December.
In the past year, it was discovered that TEPCO did not thoroughly survey faults near the nuclear plant and its earthquake-resistance measures were insufficient. This led some voters to express concern about the plant's safety.
While the mayors and governor are worried about fiscal problems, they remain cautious about restarting the plant.
Between March and May, TEPCO resumed operations at two electrical power generation facilities at its Yokosuka thermal power plant. If the reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa do not go back online, other thermal power plants would compensate for the lost electrical generating capacity, but would emit an extra 30 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, according to expert estimates.
Chikyu o Kangaeru Kai, an association of scholars and business leaders that considers environmental problems, in May proposed to the prime minister that operations at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant be resumed as soon as possible.
The association, chaired by former Education, Science and Technology Minister Akito Arima, said the nuclear power plant could reduce CO2 emissions.
Few people pay attention to where their electricity is produced. With the greater metropolitan area facing an electricity shortage this summer, it is time for us to think about these issues.
TEPCO must demonstrate to the public that it has implemented surefire safety measures if it wants to resume the plant's operations. However, TEPCO and the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry have to make better efforts to help the public understand the need for nuclear power plants.
(Source: Yomiuri Shimbun)