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No such thing as absolutely safe nuclear plants

August 11, 2015

Safety concerns linger as Japan returns to nuclear power




With the reactivation of the No. 1 reactor at the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant in Kagoshima Prefecture on Aug. 11, the Japanese government is now getting back on track to nuclear power dependence. While the No. 1 reactor has become the first to be restarted based on the new regulatory criteria drawn up in the wake of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster, it doesn't mean the facility carries no risk of a nuclear accident.

The new safety standards, which reflect lessons from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, contributed to reinforcing infrastructure at nuclear complexes against potential earthquakes and tsunami. However, evacuation plans for potential nuclear accidents have yet to be substantially improved.

Although areas covered by nuclear emergency plans were expanded to 30 kilometers in radius after the Fukushima crisis, largely raising the number of residents to be evacuated, no disaster drills have yet to be conducted in areas surrounding the Sendai plant based on the new evacuation schemes.

Nationwide, 4.8 million people are estimated to be subject to the updated nuclear emergency plans, meaning that 4 percent of Japan's entire population is living in the "vicinity" of nuclear plants.

Nevertheless, resident evacuation plans are not included among the prerequisites for restarting nuclear reactors. The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) boasts the new criteria as one of the world's strictest, but as NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka has said before, the new regulatory standards and nuclear disaster preparedness should be "a pair of wheels on a car of safety."

We have learned too well from the Fukushima catastrophe that a country could be destroyed by a nuclear plant disaster. At the same time, we are now also aware that there are no "absolutely safe" nuclear power stations. Several hundreds of thousands of people still remain evacuated from their hometowns due to the Fukushima tragedy, four years and a half after the meltdowns. In order not to repeat the same mistakes, the central and local governments as well as utilities must never neglect refining measures for nuclear plant safety and resident evacuation.

August 11, 2015 (Mainichi Japan)

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