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Lessons from Fukushima have not been learned

July 17, 2014
Editorial: Stop and learn lessons from Fukushima before restarting Sendai reactors




A draft report compiled by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) effectively signifies that the No. 1 and 2 reactors at Kyushu Electric Power Co.'s Sendai Nuclear Power Plant in Kagoshima Prefecture have cleared new safety standards. Three years and fourth months after the devastating disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, the restarting of a nuclear plant under the newly established standards has moved a step closer to reality.

The government has labeled the new standards the "world's strictest," and it plans to restart any nuclear reactors that clear these standards. Under current rules, public opinion will now be sought, and if consent is obtained from the relevant areas, it will be possible to restart the reactors.

Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japanese society has moved forward without any nuclear reactors in operation -- a situation that was previously thought impossible. Reactivation of the Sendai nuclear plant under the new standards would signal a turning point for Japan, turning it back into a country that utilizes nuclear power.

We have continued to stress that Japan should do all it can to create a society free from reliance on nuclear power. We don't deny that Japan may reactivate nuclear power plants along the way to produce the minimum necessary level of power. But there are conditions: The government must thoroughly learn from the Fukushima nuclear disaster and prevent another crisis, and it must find a way to protect residents from harm even if an accident does occur. Furthermore, it must map out a path to freedom from reliance on nuclear power, and place the reactivation of nuclear power plants in a position lying within its overall energy policy.

On both of these conditions, reactivation of the Sendai nuclear plant falls short of the mark, raising grave fears that the safety myth that surrounded nuclear power before the Fukushima disaster could be revived.

First of all, the government has been slow to announce disaster prevention plans to be implemented in the event of an accident.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) lists five levels of defense to protect against a nuclear accident. The first three cover the prevention of serious accidents, the fourth covers the response to such an accident, and the fifth deals with disaster prevention measures in the event of significant external releases of radiation.

After the outbreak of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, the government expanded the areas requiring nuclear disaster countermeasures to those lying within 30 kilometers of a nuclear power plant -- much wider than the original designation of eight to 10 kilometers. However, under the Basic Law on Disaster Countermeasures, the task of handling the fifth layer of protection stipulated by the IAEA is left up to local bodies, and this is exempt from screening by the NRA.

Under regional disaster prevention plans in Kagoshima Prefecture, where the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant is located, hospitals and nursing facilities within a 30 kilometer radius of the plant have been left to formulate evacuation plans for the people in their care. But in reality, it is necessary for the prefecture to mediate and assist in the search for facilities that can look after these people.

The Kagoshima Prefectural Government has presented an evacuation plan for areas within a 10-kilometer radius of the plant. Gov. Yuichiro Ito has stated, "Evacuation plans for people requiring care within a 30-kilometer radius of a nuclear power plant are not realistic." The reason for this is that in addition to an increase in the number of people requiring care, it is difficult to secure methods of evacuation and facilities to accept these people. And this applies to other areas in the vicinity of nuclear power plants across Japan.

In the United States, emergency plans that include evacuation measures are subject to regulation, and before a nuclear power plant is moved, permission is needed from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Japanese government, too, should actively support the creation of evacuation plans for local bodies and evaluate how appropriate they are. If effective plans can't be produced, then the government should not allow the nuclear power plant to be reactivated.

In implementing measures against serious accidents, it is important for power companies to maintain a high level of safety awareness, but on this point, too, there are concerns. During safety screening under the new safety standards that went into effect in July last year, we saw power companies trying to downplay the effects that earthquakes and tsunamis would have on their plants. This applied in the case of the Sendai nuclear power plant. It was not until March this year, eight months after it had applied for safety screening of its Sendai plant that Kyushu Electric Power Co. complied with a request from the NRA and ratcheted up the level of seismic motion that the plant could be exposed to during a major quake


A total of 19 reactors at 12 nuclear power plants in Japan are up for safety screening, but it is unclear when screening of nuclear power stations other than the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant will conclude. NRA chairman Shunichi Tanaka has criticized power companies' lack of respect for safety, stating, "They are lacking when it comes to a stance of more solemnly accepting the fact that the Fukushima accident occurred."

The new safety standards incorporate fresh measures to counter terrorist attacks and strengthen measures against natural disasters, such as earthquakes and tsunami. But these standards represent the minimum line, and power companies need to do more themselves to mitigate the risks posed by a nuclear disaster. We must not forget that after the outbreak of the Fukushima disaster, the stance of thinking, "As long as we meet the standards, that's enough," came under criticism, including from overseas.

An even bigger problem is that while the government has said that it will "reduce reliance on nuclear power as much as possible," it has gone ahead with moves to restart nuclear power plants without showing how that will be accomplished.

Admittedly, if the nation's nuclear power plants are not restarted, then imports of fossil fuels will continue to increase for the time being, and the view that this presents a problem in terms of energy security is likely to emerge. At the same time, electricity prices will go up and carbon emissions will increase.

Yet Japan is a land of earthquakes and volcanoes, and the risks involved with continuing to rely on nuclear power are great.

Power companies are expected to spend roughly 2.2 trillion yen on nuclear safety measures, roughly 1.5 times the figure cited a year ago. If the cost of the cleanup after the Fukushima nuclear disaster and related compensation payments were factored in, this figure would surge even higher.

During the recent election to select a new governor of Shiga Prefecture, a newcomer campaigning on a platform of "graduation from nuclear power" beat a rival backed by the ruling coalition. In opinion polls, it is evident that there are many residents who have doubts about restarting nuclear power plants.

Considering these points, the government has a responsibility to clearly explain to the public the risks of operating nuclear power plants and the risks of not operating them. Seeking understanding for reactivation comes after that.

July 17, 2014(Mainichi Japan)



COMMENTARY: Green light for Sendai plant shows lessons from Fukushima unheeded



July 17, 2014

By RYUTA KOIKE/ Staff Writer

It clearly hasn't dawned on the central government and Japan's electric power companies that it is impossible to construct a nuclear plant that is 100-percent safe.

That is the only possible conclusion in light of the July 16 decision to resume operations at the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture.

Over the past year while covering the safety screenings conducted by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, one glaring characteristic has stood out: the backward-looking stance of the electric power companies with regard to safety measures at their nuclear facilities.

The utilities have persistently hemmed and hawed when faced with the prospect of having to implement steps that would require a huge investment of time and money.

As if to ignore the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the electric power companies continued to submit understated estimates for possible earthquakes and tsunami. That meant many of those companies had to go back to the drawing board to come up with more realistic estimates.

While those companies have also griped that the safety screening was too strict, most points raised were to be expected in light of the gravity of the Fukushima accident.

The standards established by the NRA are nothing but the minimum level required for safety. If the electric power companies still are unable to comprehend the need to heighten safety, they are not qualified to remain in the business. Nor should they be allowed to seek a resumption of operations at their nuclear plants.

The safety screenings include new confirmation of the procedures to deal with a severe accident in which reactor cores go into meltdown, leading to the release of radioactive materials.

The fundamental point of those procedures is that the electric power companies themselves must bring the situation under control. There is no indication of how the central government would take responsibility should another serious situation occur in Japan.

The problem is that the target of the safety screenings have been limited to within the nuclear plant site. Other important issues, such as evacuation plans in the event of an accident, have been left to local communities.

Local residents who in the past allowed nuclear plants to be constructed in their communities, despite concerns about the technology, now know only too well how unreliable such hypothetical plans can be.

The fallout from a nuclear accident goes well beyond prefectural borders. For this reason, dealing with such accidents should not be left to individual local governments.

Despite that obvious reality, the Abe administration appears to be leaving open the possibility of avoiding responsibility for the resumption of operations at nuclear plants by using the NRA as a possible scapegoat.

What the Fukushima disaster has ingrained in the minds and memories of all of us is that once an accident does occur it will rapidly go beyond what humans can control, and the hometowns and lives of many people will be snatched from them.

Now that Japanese society knows what is involved, does it really want to again use nuclear power?

Allowing nuclear plants to resume operations is intolerable, especially since no effort has been made to gauge public opinion.



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