Japan’s nuclear watchdog approved safety standards at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture, but the governor wants answers about the 2011 Fukushima disaster before the company can restart any reactor.

After questioning TEPCO’s commitment to safety, the Nuclear Regulation Authority on Dec. 27 gave its stamp of approval for the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.

It was the NRA’s first approval of boiling-water reactors since the 2011 accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which operated the same type of reactor.

However, the Niigata prefectural government is unlikely to approve the reactor restarts at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant until three or four years down the road.

Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama, whose approval is required for the resumption of reactor operations, has stated that he would not make a decision until the prefectural government completes its own assessment of the Fukushima nuclear accident.

Members of the public have also vehemently opposed allowing TEPCO to operate nuclear facilities.

Doubts were raised within the NRA on whether TEPCO was fit as a company to run a nuclear plant, considering the scale of the disaster in Fukushima Prefecture.

NRA officials in July asked TEPCO executives to appear at a meeting and explain their attitude toward safety.

In August, TEPCO submitted a document to the NRA that said in part: “We are prepared to go through with decommissioning the reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant. We will not place priority on economic interests over safety.”

The NRA compiled its draft inspection document in October. NRA officials said they will confirm TEPCO’s safety stance during screening of more specific measures designed for safety, which include an explanation of plant operating procedures.

The nuclear watchdog allowed the public to submit their views on the inspection document over a 30-day period.

At the NRA meeting on Dec. 27, 904 views were made public.

NRA officials said several hundred opinions were opposed to having TEPCO resume operations at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant. Some argued that the utility had not improved its corporate posture. Others said the inspection document contained little in the way of specific plans for how TEPCO would go about ensuring safety.

But the NRA approved the document on the grounds that it would still have the opportunity to judge TEPCO’s fitness during the safety screening. The utility will submit specific safety measures as the next step in the process toward resuming operations of the two reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.

(This article was written by Yusuke Ogawa and Masanobu Higashiyama.)