Worlds Biggest Nuclear Plant May Stay Shuttled After Papers Lost On Car Roof

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A week after Japanese regulators postponed the restart of the world’s giant nuclear power plant due to safety lapses, a careless employee working from home added to the company’s woes. Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Japan’s Niigata prefecture, said an employee placed a stack of documents on a car before driving off and losing them. The firm is still trying to recover 38 pages of data related to disaster preparations. It has warned the worker and manager, who are both now on leave, and has strengthened its rules for taking papers off-site.

The plant’s shutdown has roiled energy markets as it was viewed as a critical test of the country’s ability to manage nuclear reactors and ensure safety protocols work. It has also raised concerns about the security of other nuclear plants nationwide.

On Wednesday, the Japanese government’s nuclear regulatory agency reaffirmed its de facto ban on the plant’s reactors 6 and 7 from operating until the firm can prove its preventative measures are working as intended. It’s a significant setback to the plant, which could save Tepco $827m in fuel costs annually and produce enough electricity for 16 million households. The decision comes even though the reactors were cleared to restart by the agency in March after inspections and tests showed they met all required safety criteria.

Tepco, the world’s largest utility, has had many problems since the Fukushima meltdown 2011. It took five years to restore power to its damaged nuclear complex, and it is only now beginning to repair other facilities. Its stock has dropped by nearly a fifth this year amid investor concern that a series of accidents and design flaws could lead to another nuclear catastrophe.

The firm’s most significant project, the 1650 MWe EPR at Flamanville in Normandy, is more than a decade behind schedule after construction began. Numerous design and construction errors have been uncovered, and many are blamed on French contractor Areva. The problems have been echoed at the Olkiluoto plant in Finland, which is also being built by Areva and is scheduled to open in 2015, ten years late.

Despite these issues, the government and EDF remain committed to pushing ahead with Hinkley, which has been pushed back to 2023 at around EUR12.3 billion. But some experts argue that the delays and cost overruns at Flamanville will be replicated at Hinkley and be passed on to consumers.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has floated the idea of a longer lifespan for the Diablo Canyon plant, which provides 9% of the state’s energy and powers millions of homes. But environmental groups, local safety advocates, and nuclear worker unions oppose any extension of the plant’s lifespan. They say it would undermine the goals of California’s energy policy, risking shortages and a return to fossil fuels.

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