Photo/IllutrationResidential areas spread around the Tokai No. 2 nuclear plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture. (Satoru Semba)

  • Photo/Illustraion

The Nuclear Regulation Authority approved safety measures at the only nuclear plant in the Tokyo metropolitan area, but questions remain on whether its aging reactor can restart and if its operator will survive.

At a July 4 meeting, the NRA concluded that Japan Atomic Power Co.’s measures to protect the Tokai No. 2 nuclear plant from a severe accident, such as a core meltdown, in a powerful earthquake and tsunami meet the stricter safety regulations put in place in 2013.

“We believe the measures were designed in a way to generate appropriate and sufficient results,” Toyoshi Fuketa, chairman of the NRA, said.

The plant is located in the village of Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo.

The Tokai No. 2 reactor is the first to pass the NRA’s safety regulations among those affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

It is also the 15th reactor cleared by the NRA since the quake and tsunami caused the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and forced the shutdowns of all reactors in Japan.

The NRA’s assessment will become official after it solicits public opinions over 30 days.

However, the plant’s sole reactor, with an output capacity of 1.1 gigawatts, will mark the end of its 40-year life span on Nov. 27. Japan Atomic Power will need approval from the NRA by November to extend the reactor’s operational life by 20 years.

On top of that, the company will have to obtain NRA approval for details of the company’s project to strengthen the facility, also by Nov. 27.

And the company needs the consent of Tokai, host of the plant, as well as Ibaraki Prefecture and five neighboring cities.

About 960,000 people reside within 30 kilometers of the Tokai No. 2 plant, making it the most crowded 30-km zone around nuclear power facilities in the nation.

Nuclear power plant operators normally gain approval for reactor restarts only from the host community and the prefectural government.

But Japan Atomic Power in March reached an agreement with Tokai village and the five cities to reactivate the plant only after they all endorsed the restart.

Last month, the Mito municipal assembly adopted a motion objecting to the restart of the Tokai No. 2 reactor.

Central government guidelines call on municipalities sitting within 30 km of a nuclear facility to devise evacuation plans in advance.

Mito, with a population of 270,000, has not secured places for 90,000 potential evacuees. In fact, only three of the 14 municipalities around the Tokai No. 2 nuclear plant have come up with evacuation plans so far.

The establishment of evacuation plans is not a legal requirement for restarting a nuclear power plant.

But local leaders have said they will take it into consideration when they weigh their decision on the Tokai No. 2 reactor.

One other problem facing Japan Atomic Power is that the NRA’s screening procedures have been stalled.

If further delays cause the company to miss the deadline for submitting required documents to the NRA, Japan Atomic Power could be forced to decommission the plant.

The Tokai No. 2 reactor is the only unit that the company can bring back online in the near future.

Of the company’s four reactors, two are already on their way to be decommissioned.

Prospects for restarting the No. 2 reactor at its Tsuruga plant in Fukui Prefecture are slim because many seismologists have said an active geological fault runs under the reactor building.

The Tokai No. 2 reactor appears to be Japan Atomic Power’s last chance for survival.

The company is expected to spend 174 billion yen ($1.58 billion) on safety measures, including construction of a sea wall to protect the plant against tsunami.

Japan Atomic Power used to supply power to Tohoku Electric Power Co. and Tokyo Electric Power Co. before the Fukushima disaster. The two utilities said they will provide funds for Japan Atomic Power's measures.