Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. is expected to soon see two of its nuclear reactors clear the initial safety hurdle to bring them back online, even as the company struggles to recover from the 2011 Fukushima crisis, sources close to the matter said Friday.
Tepco, as the utility is known, has been spending years seeking to restart the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast, which is the only nuclear complex operated by the company outside Fukushima Prefecture on the Pacific coast.
It filed for safety assessments of the Nos. 6 and 7 units in September 2013.
According to the sources, the commissioners of the Nuclear Regulation Authority will start discussions on the issue from next Wednesday, with a view to compiling a draft document that will serve as a certificate that the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors have satisfied new safety requirements introduced after the Fukushima crisis.
The NRA wants to reach a conclusion on the issue before its Chairman Shunichi Tanaka's five-year term expires on Sept. 18, the sources said. But the envisioned move may trigger criticism among the public as Tepco still has a long way to go to scrap the meltdown reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was engulfed by huge quake-triggered tsunami waves in March 2011.
The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa complex is one of the world's largest nuclear power plants with a combined output capacity of 8.2 million kilowatts. The Nos. 6 and 7 reactors are boiling water reactors -- the same type as the ones at the Fukushima Daiichi complex -- and the newest among the seven units at the plant.
Local governments hosting the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant are also currently cautious about its resumption, with Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama saying that it will take "around three to four years" for the utility to win local consent on the matter.
Tepco, which is facing massive compensation payments and other costs to deal with one of the world's worst nuclear crises, has been desperate to resume operation of its idled reactors so it can reduce spending on costly fossil fuel imports for non-nuclear thermal power generation.
While some reactors run by other utilities have resumed operations in Japan by satisfying the new safety regulations, Tepco has constantly been under scrutiny by regulators on whether it is qualified to once again operate a nuclear power plant.
Some inside the NRA have been reluctant to move ahead with the safety review process of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors. But Tanaka strongly wishes to set a course on the issue before he leaves the top post, which was one of the factors that led to the latest development, the sources said.