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NRA says it won't be influenced

December 20, 2012



Nuclear regulatory body nixes any impact from change of gov't



TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan's nuclear regulatory authority chief said Wednesday his organization will not be influenced by a change of government following Sunday's general election, which will likely lead Japan to retract a goal to phase out nuclear power in the 2030s.

"Whatever (the government) is going to be, we do not intend to change (nuclear) safety regulations and they will not change," Shuichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, said at a press conference.

The LDP, which won the election in a landslide, has termed as "irresponsible" a goal to abandon nuclear power generation included in an energy strategy compiled by the government led by the outgoing Democratic Party of Japan.

Under the LDP-led government, reactors that are deemed safe by the regulatory authority are expected to be allowed to restart.

Tanaka said at press conference that the NRA will probably not start the safety screening process for idled reactors until next July because it needs time to set new safety standards following last year's nuclear disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi complex.

"We can't conduct a review even if utilities apply for reactivation as long as (necessary) law is not in place. So it can't be helped that the process will start in July or later," he said.

While the LDP has said in its election promises that it will be decided within three years whether all of the country's reactors can be restarted, Tanaka did not make clear that the authority can finish the screening process in the time frame.

Tanaka said politicians "always give various opinions and (what they say) changes from time to time."

"It would be troublesome if safety regulations were changed (in accordance with the views of such politicians," he added.

The entity was launched in September as a highly independent organization after the Fukushima nuclear crisis raised questions over the closeness of regulators and promoters of atomic power that may have resulted in lax supervision of nuclear facilities.

Forty-eight of the nation's 50 commercial nuclear reactors currently remain offline amid safety concerns. Utilities, meanwhile, are struggling due to increasing fuel costs for boosting thermal power generation to make up for the loss of nuclear power.

TEPCO President Naomi Hirose, in an interview with Kyodo News on Wednesday, expressed hope the controversial energy strategy will be reviewed under the new government.

"Crude oil prices could rise and wars could break out (in the Middle East). There's a need to keep options that can respond to huge waves," he said.

He also reiterated that the new government needs to consider a fresh scheme to assist the utility due to costs for compensation and land decontamination after the nuclear crisis, which he says are too massive for a company to shoulder.

TEPCO was placed under state control earlier this year, receiving an injection of 1 trillion yen in public funds to avoid insolvency.

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