Niigata Election Throws Wrench In Japan Nuclear Plans

checkmateThis surprising news requires a bit of back story. The sitting Niigata prefecture governor, Hirohiko Izumida has been blocking the potential restart of TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata. He insisted a complete understanding and investigation of the Fukushima disaster should take place before he would consider any permission to restart TEPCO’s reactors in his prefecture.

The Japanese government’s entire Fukushima recovery plan including what to do with TEPCO has been dependent on restarting Kashiwazaki Kariwa so TEPCO had a significant stream of income. Then that money would be used to help fund the decommissioning and compensation payments tied to the disaster.

Prime minister Abe and his political party the LDP decided to oust Izumida who is also an LDP member. So they ran their own candidate in his election after creating a scandal about the sale of a ship owned by the prefecture. But the LDP’s hand picked candidate lost. The person who won, was a left leaning candidate from a coalition of smaller political parties. He ran on an anti-nuclear platform and handily won the election. Ryuichi Yoneyama will take over the governors office. This means it is extremely unlikely that the Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear plant will see any reactors restart within the next 4 years, the length of the governor’s term in office.

TEPCO has already been seeing their finances strained as they try to cover the costs for the portion of the 3-11 disaster caused by their nuclear plant. They also recently asked the government to continue holding a stake in TEPCO to help cover costs for a longer period of time as they determined that decommissioning costs at the plant site had increased substantially.

This situation in Niigata may be a long term stance against restarting TEPCO’s reactors in their prefecture. A 2007 earthquake saw some damage to that plant and some radiation releases to the environment. Exit polling by NHK showed that 73% of the people in Niigata are against restarting reactors.

So if restarting Kashiwazaki Kariwa is highly unlikely to ever take place due to local opposition and this restart is the core part of the government’s plan for TEPCO, this not only raises the potential that TEPCO could never recover financially but it could extend to hinder further reactor restarts if political resistance increases.

On Monday TEPCO’s stock dropped 8% on the news that the new Niigata governor would also be against restarting Kashiwazaki Kariwa.

 

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