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28 Oct, 2013 22:13

TEPCO must address ‘institutionalized lying’ before it restarts world’s biggest nuclear power plant – governor

TEPCO must address ‘institutionalized lying’ before it restarts world’s biggest nuclear power plant – governor

Tokyo Electric Power Co must give a more thorough account of the Fukushima disaster and address “institutionalized lying” in the company, before it will be permitted to restart the Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant, according to a local governor.

“If they don’t do what needs to be done, if they keep skimping on costs and manipulating information, they can never be trusted,” Niigata Prefecture Governor Hirohiko Izumida told Reuters on Monday, adding that these limitations need to be overcome before the plant is restarted. 

Hirohiko Izumida (Image from h-izumida.jp)
It is up to Izumida to approve plans to restart the reactor at the TEPCO-run Kashiwazaki Kariwa – the world’s biggest nuclear complex, located on the Japan sea coast, north-west of Tokyo. His personal commission would examine both the causes and handling of the disaster at Fukushima and lay them alongside existing regulatory safeguards to ensure a similar crisis could not reoccur.

However, he declined to mention to the wire agency when he would be launching his review and provided no agenda. “If they cooperate with us, we will be able to proceed smoothly. If not, we won't,” he said in response to questioning on the subject.

If Japanese nuclear safety regulators do lend their approval to the restart plans, Izumida remains able to essentially block TEPCO’s plans for the plant as the facility requires the backing of local officials, allotting Izumida some leverage.

Safety is our utmost priority and we are not acting on an assumption of nuclear restarts," said TEPCO spokesperson, Yoshimi Hitotsugi. “We want to work on this issue while gaining the understanding of the local population and related parties.”

Izumida suggested that TEPCO should be fully stripped of responsibility for decommissioning the destroyed Fukushima reactors, and the company subjected to a taxpayer-funded bankruptcy program. Presently, the company remains primarily concerned with funding the process, along with the frequently-occurring and very immediate issue of contaminated water leaking rather than overall nuclear safety.

“Unless we create a situation where 80-90 percent of their thinking is devoted to nuclear safety, I don't think we can say they have prioritized safety,” he said.

The decommissioning of the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi plant itself will be a long and arduous process – expected to take 30 years – and has already sparked controversy in the country.

Reuters investigations have identified widespread abuses at the plant, among them the involvement of illegal brokers. Over 6,000 staff are involved in the project. “The workers at the plant are risking their health and giving it their all,” said Izumida.

However, wage-skimming has been a habitual practice. Izumida offered to make the workers participating in the clean-up public employees.

TEPCO aims to restart Kashiwazaki Kariwa next April. If all of its reactors became operational again, the company could potentially save $1 billion on a monthly basis in fuel costs. 

(FILE) A general view of Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Kariwa village, Kashiwazaki 18 July 2007. (AFP Photo / Kazuhiro Nogi)

The TEPCO-run Fukushima Daiichi power plant was disrupted in March 2011 by a massive earthquake and tsunami which wreaked havoc at Fukushima and sparked a nuclear crisis in which meltdowns occurred in three reactors.  It was considered to be the world’s worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and has since cost TEPCO some $27 billion in losses.

Since then it has suffered frequent spillages of water containing radioactive substances. In August, one storage tank leaked over 300 tons of contaminated water. TEPCO first admitted that the Fukushima plant was leaking radioactive substances in July after months of denial.

In September, a senior utility expert at Fukushima, Kazuhiko Yamashita, said that the plant was “not under control.” TEPCO downplayed his comments, saying that he had only been talking about the plant’s waste water problem – not the facility as a whole.

There are three things required of a company that runs nuclear power plants: don't lie, keep your promises and fulfil your social responsibility,” Izumida concluded.