Tokyo Electric Power Company requested on Friday that safety inspections be carried out that may allow it to restart two nuclear reactors, despite concerns over how it has handled the catastrophe at the Fukushima plant.
All of Japan’s nuclear plants are offline while regulators consider restarts under safety rules revised after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant.
Restarts will require approvals from the Nuclear Regulation Authority and local governments.
The request to restart two reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, in Niigata Prefecture on the Japan Sea coast, brings to 14 the number of reactors that utilities want assessed.
The plant is the world’s largest atomic power plant, whose seven reactors have a combined output capacity of 8.2 million kilowatts. Tepco is seeking restarts of reactor numbers 6 and 7, advanced boiling water reactors that are the newest at the plant.
Tepco and other utilities are eager to restart at least some of the country’s 50 operable reactors to help defray rising costs both from maintaining the nuclear plants and also from increased imports of gas and oil for conventional power plants needed to offset lost generating capacity.
The request comes as a parliamentary panel questions Tepco’s president, Naomi Hirose, on Friday over the company’s handling of the accident, as radiation leaks and other troubles persist.
Opposition lawmakers of the lower house grilled Hirose over a decision by Tepco to delay use of measures now being considered to prevent radiation-tainted water from escaping into groundwater and the sea.
“You knew of this radioactive water problem more than two years ago,” Masato Imai of the Democratic Party of Japan, which was in power at the time of the accident, told Hirose.
“It appears your risk awareness was way too low,” he said. “Why did you not act then?”
While apologising repeatedly for the leaks and other mishaps at the plant, Hirose said that the heaps of rubble and other waste from the tsunami and explosions at the plant, and high levels of radiation, prevented some work from being done. Worries over cost and feasibility also have slowed progress on stabilising the situation at the plant, he said.
Meanwhile, the water continues to accumulate as Tepco struggles to keep the damaged reactors cool and prevent further meltdowns.
“The water is unable to escape, but it is still accumulating. It is a very difficult situation,” Hirose said.
“It’s really a ‘whack-a-mole’ situation,” he said, pledging to “do what needs doing” and avoid delays and failures in the future.