International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA assessing antiterrorism steps at central Japan nuclear plant

Kyodo News - 3/27/2024 10:00:00 AM

International Atomic Energy Agency experts on Monday began assessing strengthened counterterrorism measures implemented at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in central Japan, with the plant operator hoping a positive outcome will persuade local officials to approve a restart.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. requested the five-person IAEA delegation conduct the inspection, which runs through April 2, at the seven-reactor complex in Niigata Prefecture to determine whether the operator's preventative measures meet international standards after a series of safety flaws came to light, resulting in a two-year operational ban that ended in December.

"The purpose of the expert mission is to assess the enhancement of physical protection measures of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Station (to protect nuclear materials and facilities) and to provide further advice as necessary to the facility operator," an IAEA representative said at a meeting with TEPCO officials at the complex, which was open to the media.

An expert from an International Atomic Energy Agency assessment team (facing camera) takes part in a meeting at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power complex in Niigata Prefecture on March 25, 2024. (Kyodo)
Defective intruder detection systems and other security shortcomings discovered at the plant since January 2021 led the Nuclear Regulation Authority to issue an operational ban the following April. It was lifted in late December after the NRA confirmed the operator fixed the problems.

Following the NRA's approval, TEPCO has sought the consent of the prefecture's governor and local mayors to restart Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, one of the world's largest nuclear plants by output.

TEPCO, which also operated the now-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, sees the restart as integral to turning its business around after the nuclear crisis triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The disaster burdened the operator with huge compensation, decontamination and decommissioning costs.

But Niigata Gov. Hideyo Hanazumi remains reluctant to greenlight the restart as locals have lost faith in TEPCO after the security issues. They are also worried about evacuation routes in the event of a major earthquake, concerns that were heightened after a massive temblor struck nearby in central Japan in January and severed roads.

The central government supports the restart as resource-poor Japan looks to again have nuclear as a significant contributor to the country's power generation mix, with industry minister Ken Saito asking for Hanazumi's support for rebooting the Kazhiwazaki-Kariwa plant on March 18.

The security issues at the complex came to light after Nos. 6 and 7 reactors were brought in line with the NRA's stricter quake safety standards imposed after the 2011 nuclear disaster.