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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

Nuke safety: so many hurdles ahead

October 13, 2012






Nuke chief hints no restarts this year







The head of the new nuclear regulatory agency says reactors will not be allowed to restart until they pass seismic inspections and meet safety standards to be instituted next year.

Under the new requirements, emergency procedures for accidents and terrorist attacks will become compulsory for nuclear plant operators, said Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

This follows criticism that collusion between the plant operators and authorities left the Fukushima No. 1 power plant unprepared for last year's crisis. Before the disaster struck, operators were allowed to decide for themselves whether to follow safety guidelines recommended by regulators.

Tanaka has criticized as political the government's decision to restart two reactors in Oi, Fukui Prefecture, in July to avoid a power crunch during the high-demand summer. The reactors are the only ones to resume operations since all reactors were shut down for safety checks and disaster countermeasures in light of the Fukushima disaster.

"Right now we don't have the legal basis to make any judgment over reactors," Tanaka said Thursday in an interview. "We don't have the legal power to stop the Oi reactors."

Tanaka said his agency will draft the new requirements by March and they should become law by July.

Nuclear power provided a third of Japan's electricity before the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, and the intention was to increase that to 50 percent. But last month, a Cabinet panel called for Japan to phase out nuclear power over the next three decades.

Tanaka said his five-member regulatory commission needs the new rules to make clear what it takes to safely restart a reactor.

The agency will also raise safety hurdles, ordering reactors shut down if ongoing seismic inspections find active faults in their vicinity. Tanaka said towns around the plants must come up with expanded emergency procedures by March before any reactor is considered for a restart.

Under a guideline issued by the agency last week, communities around the plants must compile emergency measures as far as 30 km from the plant, tripling the current requirement and affecting more than 130 municipalities and nearly 5 million people across the country.

Tanaka acknowledged that some of the densely populated areas will face difficulties compiling feasible emergency plans.

Reactors 3 and 4 at the Oi power plant are also under scrutiny for suspected active fault lines, and the regulatory commission and independent seismologists are to inspect the ground structure underneath the reactors.

The plant's operator, Kansai Electric Power Co., had failed to submit key data about possible faults, but the then-regulator, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, allowed the reactors to operate without further checks.

Tanaka said the two reactors will have to be halted if the faults are confirmed.

He said Japan has faced increased seismic activity in recent years, causing temblors exceeding designed quake resistance at some plants, including Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, which is run by Tokyo Electric Power Co.

The regulatory agency was inaugurated in September after a delay due to demands from opposition lawmakers for more independence and criticism from some pronuclear agency members.

A nuclear physicist and Fukushima native, Tanaka is a former executive of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, which promotes nuclear energy. Tanaka, 67, has helped decontaminate areas around Fukushima No. 1.

"We must clear questions and concerns one by one, otherwise we will never regain the public trust," Tanaka said. "No reactor should operate unless the community has emergency plans that residents can accept."

Reform panel hit


A panel of experts monitoring Tepco's efforts to reform its under-fire nuclear division held its first meeting Friday, with its leader calling for the utility to be thoroughly revamped.

The Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee, which is headed by Dale Klein, a former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, serves as an advisory body to Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s board of directors

Tepco set up the committee as part of its drive to improve safety measures and technical capabilities, whose shortcomings were glaring when the Fukushima nuclear disaster hit. But some are continuing to speculate that the utility is simply laying the groundwork to restart its idled reactors by restoring public confidence in nuclear power.

The need to bring its reactors back online is stipulated in a 10-year comprehensive special business plan.


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