Photo/IllutrationKashiwazaki Mayor Masahiro Sakurai, left, explains the city’s conditions for the restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant at a meeting with Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. President Tomoaki Kobayakawa at the city hall in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture, on July 25. (Koji Atsumi)

KASHIWAZAKI, Niigata Prefecture--Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s hopes of a phased restart of all of the reactors at its nuclear power plant here to save on fuel costs faces a new obstacle in the form of the local mayor.

Mayor Masahiro Sakurai said July 25 he will agree to the restart of two reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, but on the condition that TEPCO “presents a plan to decommission the remaining five in two years.”

The demand was made in the mayor's first meeting with TEPCO's new president, Tomoaki Kobayakawa. Sakurai handed over a document listing the city's conditions for a restart.

In response, Kobayakawa merely said, “We should exchange opinions further.”

The plant, which is located in Kashiwazaki and neighboring Kariwa, is one of the world's largest nuclear power stations, with seven nuclear reactors.

All the reactors are offline now.

But TEPCO plans to reactivate the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors, the two newest units, as early as fiscal 2019 after they are certified by the Nuclear Regulation Authority as meeting more stringent safety regulations put in place after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. The company wants to restart the rest in stages.

Restarting the facility is crucial to the company’s bottom line as it needs to secure a treasure chest to finance the enormous cost of decommissioning the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and paying compensation to victims.

At the meeting, Sakurai expressed “strong doubts about the corporate culture that governs TEPCO.”

He referred to revelations that surfaced in February about the poor quake-resistance of an emergency response center at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant. It emerged that the center was capable of withstanding less than half of the strongest shaking of a very major earthquake projected to strike the facility.

The company became aware of the startling finding when it reassessed the fitness of the emergency response center in 2014, but it did not report the matter to the NRA.

The emergency response center was completed in 2009 after the Niigata Chuetsu-oki Earthquake of 2007, in which the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant was damaged.

“Considering the risks, operating seven reactors in one place is too many,” Sakurai said.

Sakurai was elected mayor for the first time in November 2016 after running on a platform of agreeing to restarts with conditions.

He envisages that the decommissioning of even one of the oldest five reactors will lead to job opportunities for local workers and promotion of local industry.

The No. 1 through No. 5 reactors went into service between 1985 and 1994.

After the meeting, the mayor told reporters that his demand for closing down the old reactors is reasonable.

“The No. 1 to No. 5 reactors are old, and some of them have remained offline since the Niigata Chuetsu-oki Earthquake,” he said. “The utility will need sufficient funds to safeguard such reactors if they are reactivated. I believe it can show us a plan for decommissioning within two years.”

Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama could prove a more formidable obstacle to the plant operator.

The governor met with Kobayakawa and TEPCO's new chairman, Takashi Kawamura, on the same day for the first time, reiterating his strong opposition to restarts.

“We cannot start discussing the restart of the plant unless a review of the safety of the plant is completed,” Yoneyama said.

Although governors do not have the legal authority to stop reactor restarts, it has been a protocol to reactivate a plant after gaining their consent.

(This article was written by Koji Atsumi and Shinya Takagi.)