The World’s Largest Nuclear Plant Can’t Generate Power

By Eric Yosomono on Friday, September 27, 2013
“In a word, the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa area was never a place where a nuclear power station should have been built from the viewpoint of seismic safety.” —Petition of concerned scientists and engineers

In A Nutshell

Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant is the No. 1 producer of nuclear electricity in the world, but a series of scandals have caused it to shut down again and again. The last shutdown was implemented after the twin disaster of the March 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The owners of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa hoped to get it up and going this year, but a scandal caused the start-up date to be pushed back once more.

The Whole Bushel

On the shore of Northern Japan sits the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant. According to Forbes, it is the biggest producer of nuclear electricity in the world and the fifth-largest producer or electricity using any means. With all its reactors running, it is capable of producing around 8,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity or the equivalent of four Hoover Dams. It beats the No. 2 nuclear power plant, Bruce Nuclear Generating Station in Canada, by almost 2,000 MW. Yet the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant, which has cost billions upon billons of dollars to build, is probably the most under-performing nuclear power plant in history. Since all seven of its reactors went online in 1997, a number of “incidents” have kept most the plant shut down; since 2011, all seven have been totally offline.

During the ’70s oil crisis, Japan was caught off guard, as its economy at that point was totally dependent on fossil fuel imports. After the crisis, there was a big push in Japan to diversify its electricity production and Japan pushed nuclear power. By 2010, 50 reactors across the country were supplying 30 percent of its electricity. In 2011, a huge earthquake set off the well-known disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, causing over 100,000 people to become permanent refugees in their own country. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, all 50 nuclear power plants across Japan have been shut down for upgrades to their tsunami protection. As of September 2013, only two reactors near the Japanese city of Osaka have been restarted.

The March 2011 earthquake hasn’t been Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant’s only problem. The flagship power plant has been badgered by numerous incidents that have seen the plant shut down again and again. After all seven of its reactors went online in 1997, Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant was Japan’s darling, showing what the country was capable of in regards to non–fossil fuel energy production. But scandal hit in 2002. It was revealed that the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), had been falsifying inspection data and hiding physical evidence of stress cracks in the plant’s water system. This limited the power that could be generated at the plant, but things got better for a while. Then, in 2007, the Chūetsu offshore earthquake struck the region. The quake epicenter just 24 kilometers (15 mi) away from the plant. The strength of the earthquake exceeded the nuclear plant’s safety tolerances, but all reactors were able to successfully shut down (although some minor radioactive material was released when storage tanks were knocked over from the quake and its aftershocks).

In another scandal an investigation revealed that TEPCO (working with the Japanese government) had covered up newly discovered fault lines that were mere miles from the site of the plant. Yet even with these newly revealed fault lines, it was decided to start up the reactors again 21 months after the Chūetsu earthquake.

While operating at about 50 percent on March 11, 2011 the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami struck the east coast of Japan. The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant only experienced minor tremors, the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant and all nuclear power plants in Japan were shut down. TEPCO reassured the residents near the plant by raising the seawall around the plant from 3.3 to 15 meters (50 ft) above sea level. They also improved the storage pool for radioactive water overflow.

By summer of 2013, the plant looked to be the third nuclear plant in Japan to be restarted and TEPCO was excited to apply to restart power generation—and then the Fukushima water storage scandal broke. Improper construction of water storage tanks for radioactive water at the wreckage of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant meant the tanks were leaking tons and tons of water into the ocean. As the uproar over the Fukushima leaks grew, TEPCO halted their application for Kashiwazaki-Kariwa to restart and so the largest nuclear plant in the world sits useless, just as it has many times during its short operating life.

Show Me The Proof

Demand that the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant be closed
TEPCO: Challenges of TEPCO
Tokyo Electric to Seek Restart of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa
HowStuffWorks: 10 Biggest Nuclear Reactors