The largest nuclear power plant in the world has been standing still for years, but perhaps not for much longer

The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power plant in Japan is currently the largest nuclear power plant in the world. As powerful as the country may be, its reactors have been closed for several years amid a cacophony of disasters and controversies. However, recent developments indicate that this may soon change.

The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant is located on a 404-hectare site between the cities of Kashiwazaki and Kariwa in Niigata Prefecture along the coast of Japan’s main island of Honshu. The first reactor started producing power in 1985, while the last came into operation in 1994.

It is operated by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the largest electric utility in Japan that also operates the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (or today cleanup operations there).

Kashiwazaki-Kariwa consists of seven boiling water reactor units and has a total potential of 8.212 million kilowatts. However, the colossal energy planet is currently inactive.

The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power plant was rocked by the 2007 Chūetsu offshore earthquake, forcing TEPCO to close its reactors for almost two years. Two reactors were temporarily restarted, but they were shut down again in 2012 in the wake of the Fukushima disaster a year earlier, which led to a total shutdown of all nuclear power plants in Japan.

While Japan has since opened some of its nuclear reactors, those at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa have been inactive for almost a dozen years.

However, according to some recent reports, the power plant is back on track to reopening. Japan’s nuclear safety regulators lifted an operational ban imposed on the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant two years earlier in December 2023, according to Reuters.

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority banned TEPCO from operating Kashiwazaki-Kariwa in 2021 after numerous safety breaches were revealed. According to the Associated Press, unauthorized people were reportedly allowed to enter “sensitive areas” of the facility, raising concerns that it would be vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

After improving safety management systems, TEPCO can now apply for local permission to restart operations at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant.

However, many hurdles still need to be overcome before Kashiwazaki-Kariwa can pump energy again. Many people in Japan distrust TEPCO over its handling of the Fukushima disaster, and locals in Kashiwazaki and Kariwa remain concerned about the presence of nuclear power plants in their area.

Even more skepticism was sown in May 2023 when an employee left a stack of important documents on his car before driving away, losing many of them in a pile of paper. In addition to further loss of confidence among locals, the accident further undermined the regulator’s confidence in TEPCO.

Globally, nuclear energy is somewhat at a crossroads. Some countries, especially in Western Europe, are currently phasing out their nuclear power due to longer-term safety concerns. For example, Germany closed its last nuclear power plant in 2023.

On the other side of the coin, nuclear energy is increasingly seen as an increasingly promising energy source, capable of producing enormous amounts of electricity without directly causing the carbon dioxide emissions that lead to climate change. Many argue that next-generation nuclear power plants could be an invaluable weapon in preventing the worst of the climate crisis.

The number of nuclear power plants is growing in Asia. As of January 2023, 10 of the world’s 15 largest nuclear power plants by capacity were located in Asia, mainly South Korea and China.

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