TOKYO: The boss of Fukushima operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) on Friday met local leaders to ask for their blessing to restart the world’s biggest nuclear plant after a public tongue-lashing for bypassing them this week.
Tepco said on Tuesday it would ask Japan’s nuclear watchdog for the green light to re-fire two of the seven units at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa in northern Niigata prefecture.
The entire power station has been shuttered since around 12 months after the tsunami-sparked meltdowns at Fukushima in March 2011.
While the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) determines if a plant meets safety requirements, the decision to allow reactors to come back online rests with politicians.
On Friday, Tepco President Naomi Hirose received a dressing down for not having first consulted the plant’s host community.
“We are very disappointed that you announced you will ask the Nuclear Regulation Agency for permission [to restart nuclear reactors]without any explanation to us,” Kashiwazaki Mayor Hiroshi Aida told Hirose.
“Such a move can ruin the mutual trust we have been building,” the mayor said.
In a meeting that was carried on national television news programs, Hirose was seen bowing deeply and offering his contrition.
“We sincerely apologize for your having had cause to criticize us for making hasty and sloppy decisions without giving considerations to local opinions,” Hirose said.
Hirose also met the mayor of Kariwa, the other municipality where part of the power station is located, and will meet Niigata’s governor later in the day.
Tepco and local governments have signed a deal under which the utility must get local leaders’ permission before re-opening the plant.
Although the agreement is not legally binding, Tepco has admitted it will be difficult to restart reactors if local people are opposed. Public wariness of the once-trusted technology has made nuclear power a politically toxic issue.
All but two of Japan’s 50 atomic reactors are offline, shut down for safety checks after the Fukushima disaster, the worst the world has seen since Chernobyl.
Following criticism that the nuclear industry was in bed with its regulators in the lead-up to Fukushima, the government established a new industry watchdog, whose beefed up safety standards come into force on Monday.