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Fukushima Operator TEPCO Seeks to Restart Reactors at World's Largest Nuclear Power Station

Jul 02, 2013 05:56 PM EDT

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of Japan's stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, said Tuesday it plans to ask the country's nuclear watch group for permission to restart two of its offline nuclear reactors at a different location.

All but two of Japan's 50 nuclear reactors are offline in the wake of the Fukushima incident in 2011, which crippled TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi station and ignited an international debate about the safety of nuclear power. The world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl prompted the shutdown of Japan's nuclear reactors for safety checks.

TEPCO wants to restart two of the seven units at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power station in Niigata prefecture, on the eastern side of the country's Tohoku region. The Fukushima campus is roughly at the same latitude, though on the opposite side of the island.

Each of the two reactors is capable of generating 1.36 million kilowatts of power. The entire Kashiwazaki-Kariwa campus, which is the world's largest nuclear power facility, has been shut down for more than one year.

"We decided at a board meeting to apply for the safety assessment for Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant's reactors No. 6 and No. 7 as early as possible," TEPCO president Naomi Hirose said, according to the AFP.

Japan's nuclear industry leaders have been accused of have too comfortable a relationship with the country's nuclear industry regulators. Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority, which came to be in the wake of badly damaged public trust in the nuclear industry, has set a number of strict safety standards which must be met before nuclear power companies will be allowed to restart their offline reactors.

While the earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Fukushima plant claimed about 18,000 lives, no deaths have been directly attributed to the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima. Still, send of thousands of people had to be evacuated from the area around the Fukushima campus, and many will never be able to return home.

In the years after the disaster the Fukushima plant has suffered a number of setbacks including leaking radioactive water, power failures and an increasing lack of space to store the huge volumes of contaminated water created at the plant each day.

The most recent setback at the beleaguered nuclear power station occurred Tuesday when a small fire broke out on the campus. It was extinguished quickly and no damage was reported.

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