The head of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. promised Wednesday to institute a safety pledge as requested by Japan's nuclear regulator, as the company seeks clearance to reactivate undamaged, idle reactors located far from its plant crippled by natural disaster in 2011.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority has been calling for the company to make such a pledge part of its legally binding reactor safety program because it operates the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the site of a major nuclear disaster in the aftermath of the massive March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
President Tomoaki Kobayakawa told the regulator on Wednesday that Tepco will stipulate a pledge to build "safety culture" in its program developed for ensuring safe operation of the Nos. 6 and 7 reactors at the company's power station in Niigata Prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast.
Tepco's promise will pave the way for the regulator's safety clearance for the two units -- boiling-water reactors that are the same type as the ones that experienced meltdowns in the March 2011 disaster.
The regulator will soon compile a draft document for the two units that will serve as certification that the utility has satisfied new stricter safety requirements implemented since the nuclear disaster.
It will then consult the economy, trade and industry minister, who oversees the nuclear industry, to confirm that Tepco is fit to be an operator. It will also solicit comments from the public before formally giving safety clearance.
Even if the reactors clear the safety checks, local governments in the area on which the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant sits remain cautious about their resumption.
Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama, for example, has said it will take "around three to four years" for the utility to win the required local consent for a restart.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority said last week Tepco was "qualified" as a nuclear plant operator, but that it wanted the utility to express its resolve to ensure safety in a legal document, not just in words.
Safety programs drawn up for reactors need to be approved by the regulator and if it finds a grave violation, it can demand a halt to nuclear power operations from the utility.
"We intend to tackle the unending mission of improving the safety of nuclear power and to complete the decommissioning and compensation of the Fukushima Daiichi complex," Tepco's Kobayakawa said at the regulator's meeting on Wednesday. "We will also make efforts to maintain qualification" as operator of nuclear reactors, he said.
The Nos. 6 and 7 units at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant are the newest among the seven units at the plant. The complex is one of the world's largest nuclear power plants with a combined output capacity of 8.2 million kilowatts.
For a reactor to be restarted, it first needs to clear the safety requirements introduced in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis. Tepco filed for safety assessments of the two units in September 2013.
Tepco, which is facing massive compensation payments and other costs in the aftermath of one of the world's worst nuclear crises, has been desperate to resume operation of its idled reactors so it can reduce spending on costly fossil fuel imports for non-nuclear thermal power generation.
While some reactors run by other utilities have resumed operations in Japan by satisfying the new safety regulations, Tepco has been under close scrutiny by regulators on whether it is qualified to once again operate a nuclear power plant.
© Kyodo News International, Inc., source Newswire