Tepco plans to begin loading fuel into unit 7 of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in the Niigata Prefecture following approval by Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, although it is not yet clear when the reactor will be restarted.

Tepco said: “We received approval for the test use of safety equipment to confirm the soundness of the equipment. From now on, we will carry out fuel loading and subsequent pre-use operator inspections to confirm the integrity of the equipment.”

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The fuel loading process began on Monday, ahead of the unit’s potential restart.

Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 7 has been offline since August 2011. Additional regulatory inspections will have to be carried out before it can resume operations, and the local governor must give consent for this. As of yet, Niigata Governor Hideyo Hanazumi has not announced whether he will give his consent for the restart, although the central government has sought his approval.

According to the Japan Times, in a meeting last month with Yoshifumi Murase, commissioner of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, Hanazumi said that the reactor will only be restarted if the government ensures safe evacuations of local residents in the event of an emergency.

Units 6 and 7 of the nuclear power plant, which are 1,356MW advanced boiling water reactors, originally began commercial operation in 1996 and 1997. In 2013, they were the first Japanese boiling water reactors to be put forward for restart when Tepco applied for Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) approval of its safety upgrades. Four years later, Tepco received permission from the NRA to restart units 6 and 7.

However, in 2021, there were malfunctions within the intruder detection equipment at the facility, and Tepco reported unauthorised use of an ID card. In April 2021, the NRA issued an administrative order to Tepco stopping it from handling nuclear fuel at the facility until security improvements had been made and assessed by inspections. Last year, the inspections were finished and the NRA confirmed that sufficient improvements had been made.