24 Juin 2013
June 42, 2013
The only nuclear reactors currently operating in Japan are at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi plant in Fukui Prefecture. The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has decided to allow their continued provisional operations until September, when they are shut down for regular inspections.
The government decided on June 19 that the new safety standards for nuclear power plants will be enforced on July 8. Essentially, the operations of the two reactors at the Oi plant should be suspended before the new standards take effect. However, the NRA will likely judge that the two reactors largely meet the new safety standards.
The NRA apparently will take a realistic approach based on an examination of “whether the two reactors have problems that are big enough to suspend operations” before peak electricity consumption in summer. The nuclear watchdog seems to have made efforts to see whether the two reactors are meeting the new safety standards.
However, we disagree with the NRA’s expected approval of the continued operations because it has not reached a conclusion on experts’ indication that an active fault lies directly below an important facility of the Oi plant.
If the NRA concludes there is an active fault or faces some other serious problems, it should immediately suspend the reactor operations even before the regular inspections start.
NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka has clearly said as much. As a matter of course, postponed decisions on serious issues cannot be tolerated in any official examination for the Oi and other nuclear plants concerning the new safety standards.
What is more problematic than the NRA is Kansai Electric’s insincere attitude.
The NRA’s evaluation report criticized Kansai Electric, saying, “(The utility) looked as if it were trying to find the lowest possible bar to clear the new safety standards by proposing safeguard measures by piecemeal.”
Kansai Electric’s geological surveys made little progress. As a result, no data were available to see whether the fault running below the key facility is active.
To evaluate the quake-resistance capabilities of the Oi plant, the NRA asked Kansai Electric to consider a case in which three active faults running near the plant’s site move together. However, the utility resisted the request for more than one month.
Kansai Electric appeared firmly convinced from the first that it would be impossible for the NRA to halt operations of the two reactors at the Oi plant. The company does not seem to be putting a top priority on safety. If the utility continues to take such an attitude, it is not qualified to operate nuclear power plants.
Electric power companies have used their detailed technological knowledge to conveniently manipulate regulation authorities in certain aspects related to the safety of nuclear power generation. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, chairman of the Diet’s Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, said regulation authorities have become “captives” of electric power companies. He pointed out that supervisory functions over nuclear power plants have collapsed in Japan.
The NRA is at least trying to reflect on such a system. Electric power companies must abandon their old ways of thinking, fully cooperate with the NRA and change their attitudes to ones that secure the highest level of safety.
The public is still taking a strict view of electric power companies. Those companies should understand the realities surrounding them and reflect seriously on their attitudes.