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Tsuruga - Legal obstacles

Scrapping Tsuruga nuclear plant faces legal hurdles




While the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) suggested on Dec. 10 that it would not allow reactivation of a reactor at the Tsuruga Nuclear Power Station in Fukui Prefecture due to an active fault line running beneath the building, actually scrapping the reactor faces serious legal obstacles.

NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said at a meeting of experts, "My impression is that if it were to remain the way it is now, we would not be able to carry out safety assessments for the resumption (of reactor operations)." His remark serves to back up NRA's determination to adopt "the world's best safety regulations," but under the current law, it does not have legal authority to order the suspension or decommissioning of nuclear power plants.

A senior official of the NRA secretariat, meanwhile, said, "That was Mr. Tanaka's personal view." Therefore, a decision on decommissioning the No. 2 reactor at the Tsuruga plant is up to Japan Atomic Power Co., the owner and operator of the facility.

The Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law stipulates that measures necessary to prevent nuclear disasters can be taken when there is "imminent danger." Furthermore, government safety inspection guidelines for earthquake-resistant designs forbid construction of important facilities such as reactor buildings above active faults.

Nevertheless, with respect to the legal interpretation of "imminent danger," the NRA secretariat says, "It points to cases in which danger cannot be clearly predicted such as missile attacks, satellites falling to earth and volcanic eruptions."

Active faults are said to move about every 1,000 years, and therefore it is deemed difficult to recognize active faults as "imminent" dangers. Moreover, the guidelines are designed to be used when the government decides on whether to give authorization to build new nuclear plants. Thus, the guidelines have no teeth when it comes to nuclear facilities already built.

And yet a so-called "back-fit system" to judge whether even pre-existing reactors meet the new regulatory standards will take effect in July 2013 under the law authorizing the establishment of NRA, paving the way for the NRA to order the suspension of operations at nuclear reactors affected by active faults. The Tsuruga nuclear plant is currently offline for regular inspections.

A senior official with the NRA secretariat told the Mainichi that "it's difficult to order the decommissioning of the Tsuruga plant." But NRA Chairman Tanaka has suggested that decommissioning orders would be inevitable if reactors are judged to be -- or highly likely to be -- sitting above active faults.

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