December 2002

Tepco may shut down all its nuclear reactors

The Japan Times, Fukushima (Kyodo), December 12, 2002

Original address:

[Posted 15/12/2002]

All of the 17 nuclear reactors run by Tokyo Electric Power Co., the nation's largest utility, may have to be shut down temporarily next spring.

In addition to shutdowns for regular checkups, Tepco needs to carry out unscheduled inspections at some facilities following revelations it falsified reports on nuclear reactor defects.

Tepco had planned to keep the No. 2 and No. 6 reactors running at the Fukushima No. 1 power station, but the company recently told the Fukushima Prefectural Government it intends to shut them down sometime between late March and early April in response to the prefecture's call for thorough inspections, a company official said.

The period of suspension is indefinite for the moment because the details of the plan are still being worked out. But the possibility of all reactors simultaneously being down cannot be ruled out, the official said.

Power supply "will be in an extremely severe situation, but we are considering (the shutdowns) because we believe our primary task is to restore confidence," another Tepco official said. "We hope to weather it with thermal power generation and other measures."

In late August, it was revealed Tepco had falsified safety reports and covered up defects found during safety checks carried out in the 1980s and 1990s at the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 nuclear power stations, and at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Station in Niigata Prefecture.

The Fukushima No. 1 power station has six reactors, with operations at three already suspended and another scheduled to be shut down for inspection by Feb. 11. Reactors No. 2 and No. 6 will be suspended in late March and early April.

The Fukushima No. 2 station has four reactors, with operations at three suspended and the other slated to be inspected by Feb. 11.

A regular inspection of one of the suspended reactors at Fukushima No. 1 is scheduled to end in January, but Tepco says it is not yet ready to announce a date for resuming operations because the trust of local residents must be restored first.

Tepco also has seven reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Station in Niigata Prefecture. Three of them have been suspended and the fourth will be subject to inspection by the end of March.

In a related development, the House of Councilors passed two nuclear reactor regulation bills into law Thursday, aiming to prevent reactor-facility defects from being covered up by plant operators.

The laws have revised the Electric Utility Law and the Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law. They place company inspections in the framework of law and toughen punishments for violators.

The laws have adopted standards that will allow an operator to keep running a reactor even if damage is found at its facilities or in its equipment, but only after estimating how much such damage is likely to increase.

If an internal inspection shows there is a likelihood that damage found at reactor facilities or equipment may exceed safety standards, the operator will be required to report it to the government.

The laws also will allow the Nuclear Safety Commission to investigate potential misdemeanors based on tips from whistle-blowers, as the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry's nuclear safety agency and other bodies already do.

The new rules on reactor operations and inspections will take effect next fall. The additional powers will be granted to the nuclear commission next spring.

On the same day, the Diet also enacted a law to create an independent administrative agency that will carry out part of the reactor facility inspections undertaken by the state.

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