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Not so strict after all

April 26, 2014

Doubts raised over ‘world’s strictest’ claim for new nuclear safety standards







Lawmakers and experts are questioning the Abe administration’s claims that its new safety standards for nuclear power plants are rigorous enough to allow restarts of the country’s reactors, all of which have been suspended as a consequence of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Earlier this month, the Cabinet approved its new basic energy plan, which states idled reactors that are judged to meet the “world’s strictest standards,” set by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, will be allowed to resume operations.

However, even NRA members and politicians within Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party are doubting the accuracy of the assertion, as his administration has not presented a firm basis for the description.

“The assertion that the standards are ‘the world’s strictest’ is a lie,” a senior LDP official said. “That is mere lip service to allow the restart of reactors.”

Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan submitted a written query asking why the government assumes the regulations are the world’s strictest.

The Abe administration, in its written reply approved April 25 by the Cabinet, said, “We have designed the standards so that they can attain the world’s highest levels, referring to other nations’ regulatory criteria.”

In response to the government’s answer, Kan said: “No evidence has been shown. It is just tautology to say the standards are the world’s highest because they are the world’s highest standards.”

NRA Commissioner Toyoshi Fuketa said he is cautious about calling the new requirements the “world’s strictest,” even though the standards are tougher than previous ones. The new regulations, for example, require nuclear plant operators to erect higher levees to block tsunami.

“It is difficult to decide whether (the new requirements) are at the world’s highest level,” Fuketa said.

On April 15, during a meeting organized by the DPJ, an official of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy was at a loss for words when asked about a basis for the government’s assertion.

Even former industry minister Masayuki Naoshima, a DPJ member who supports the plan to restart reactors at the earliest possible date, criticized the official.

It is unacceptable to say that you cannot present evidence for (the basic energy plan), which has already been approved by the Cabinet,” Naoshima said.

Masashi Goto, a retired Toshiba Corp. nuclear engineer, said European countries are working to introduce new safety technologies that Japan has not introduced. As examples of those new equipment, Goto cited the core catcher, which is designed to cool melted reactor cores, as well as double-walled reactor containment vessels.


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