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Public hearings and no immediate restart

September 26, 2012


NRA chief: 'No plant restarts before summer'



There will be no additional restarts of the nation's nuclear facilities until at least next summer following the reactivation in July of the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, remarks by the chief of the newly launched nuclear safety watchdog indicated.

In an exclusive interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun on Monday, Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, said the NRA plans to finish working out the outline of safety rules before the end of this fiscal year as a precondition for resumption of reactor operations.

It will take considerable time to finalize the envisioned safety rules, which Tanaka said will be preceded by about two months of public hearings on the outline.

The remarks by the head of the NRA, which was inaugurated on Sept. 19, appear to indicate reactor safety screening by the NRA, based on the new reactivation rules, will not happen before the summer of 2013.

According to the law for establishing the NRA, the task of working out new nuclear safety rules must be completed within 10 months of its launch, or by July next year.

Tanaka said the NRA is determined to undertake a radical review of existing safety standards.

"Such tasks as drawing up countermeasures against severe nuclear accidents and [deciding] how to deal with possible active faults beneath nuclear facilities will take a lot of time. I think the time frame is very tight," he noted.

Regarding criteria to judge whether to restart reactors, the NRA chief stressed the regulatory body will dedicate itself exclusively to scientific evaluations. It will not consider issues such as future electricity supply and demand or utilities' difficulties stemming from idle reactors, Tanaka said.

He also made it clear the NRA--in working out its safety standards--will not take into account the stress tests the Democratic Party of Japan administration imposed on utilities as prerequisites to restart reactors after the Great East Japan Earthquake.

"Our criteria to judge whether a reactor should be considered safe will be made independently of the stress tests the government adopted before the launch of the NRA," he said.

Tanaka brushed off Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's statement on the role of the NRA to the effect the authority is supposed to "play a leading role" in making decisions on restarting reactors.

"Making such decisions is not our duty, that is up to the government, in particular, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry's Natural Resources and Energy Agency," he said, emphasizing the NRA will concentrate exclusively on objective safety screening.

The NRA will make no specific efforts to obtain the public's acceptance of restarting reactors, which Tanaka said should be undertaken by government organizations concerned.

Regarding radiation-related health issues involving residents in areas around Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Tanaka said the NRA will produce its proposal by the year-end.

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