The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant for the first time Wednesday hinted it might mothball a second nuclear plant located 10 kilometers away.
During a rare media tour of the Fukushima Daini plant, the new chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Co. said he “accepted” that there’s a lot of local opposition to the facility, which was damaged by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami but didn’t suffer the meltdowns of its neighbor, Daiichi.
“Several local leaders have requested us, some in writing, to scrap all nuclear reactors in Fukushima Prefecture, including those at the Daini plant,” said Kazuhiko Shimokobe, in a briefing at the end of the tour. “I accept that there are people who feel that way.”
Tepco will decide whether to take the Daini plant out of service “after listening to national and local opinions,” added Naomi Hirose, Tepco’s newly appointed president. Both executives, who started in their positions in June, stressed that no decision has yet been made.
Abandoning the Fukushima Daini plant would be a difficult choice for cash-strapped Tepco, which is set to receive ¥1 trillion ($12.53 billion) in capital from the government to avoid falling into insolvency. While the government has taken over the cost of paying compensation to victims of the nuclear disaster, Tepco has to shoulder costs associated with stabilizing and scrapping the Daiichi plant and paying for new thermal power plants to make up for lost nuclear capacity.
Daini’s reactors are relatively new, at 25 to 30 years of age, and scrapping the plant would cost the company more than ¥200 billion in asset write-offs and decommissioning charges, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
Such a major outlay could derail Tepco’s plan to make a profit in fiscal 2013 and jeopardize bank loans for essential day-to-day operations. Mr. Shimokobe declined to comment on how Tepco would deal with that potential financial burden.
Still, most outside experts believe that restarting Fukushima Daini would be difficult given the deep antipathy many in Fukushima prefecture feel toward nuclear power after the devastating accident at Fukushima Daiichi. Fumiya Tanabe, a former senior researcher at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, argues that with Japan’s power demand projected to decline in the future, there’s little justification for restarting the plant.
Since the March 2011 disaster, Tepco has put repairs of Daini on the back burner. Only one unit—reactor 4—has its safety functions fully restored. Tepco expects it will take until March 2013 to complete permanent repairs to the other three units.
“Our current focus is to ensure that Unit 4 is kept in a stable condition and to provide permanent fixes to the three other units,” said plant manager Naohiro Masuda. “We will work hard so that people in Fukushima will once again be able to feel safe and secure living in the prefecture.”
During the Daini tour, Tepco showed reporters new safety features aimed at protecting against natural disasters, including a 3.6-meter-high levee created out of 232 bags of rocks piled up on top of each other, and a gas-fueled mobile power generator to serve as a backup in case the plant lost power.
Tepco invited reporters to stand right under the reactor of Unit 4—which still contains nuclear fuel—to show how safe the plant is.
Tepco is trying to restart its other remaining nuclear power plant—the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in neighboring Niigata Prefecture—next year.