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Moves concerning Resumption of Operations of Nuclear Power Plants (February 21, 2012)

post date : 2012.02.21

【Watch Japan Now vol. 20/FPCJ】

February 21, 2012



Moves concerning Resumption of Operations of Nuclear Power Plants


Japan’s nuclear power generation is in a difficult situation. Of the 54 nuclear power stations in Japan, only two stations are operating as of February 21. Other stations are not working because of periodic inspection or for other reasons. As the two stations will undergo inspection one by one, all the nuclear power stations will be out of operation at the end of this April. Nuclear power generation accounted for 29.3% at the end of March 2010, but the figure had dropped to 7.3% at the end of December 2011, influenced partly by the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011.


The 3.11 great disaster caused the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), and confidence in the safety of nuclear power generation was severely shaken. The government of Japan therefore requested the electricity utilities in July 2011 to carry out a stress test (*) on all the existing power reactor facilities including those under construction. If the facilities which were not operating passed the test, the government would permit the resumption of operation by a political decision of the prime minister and the ministers concerned after gaining the agreement of the local municipalities. Further, the government sent a request to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to review the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency’s (NISA) approach to the Comprehensive Assessments for the Safety of Existing Power Reactor Facilities and NISA’s approach to the review of the results of the licensee’s assessments.


(*)Stress Test: A stress test is designed to assess the safety margins of a nuclear power plant if it should be hit by an earthquake or tsunami and its equipment and facilities important to safety might be damaged to the extent that a serious accident such as core damage could happen. The stress test comprises the primary assessment, which is used to judge the resumption of the nuclear power plant, and the secondary assessment, which is used to judge the plant’s operational continuation.


At the request of the Government of Japan, an IAEA review mission visited Japan from January 23 to 31, 2012, actually visited the Oi Nuclear Power Station (Fukui Prefecture) of the Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO), and conducted other reviews. On January 31, the mission submitted a report to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) saying that NISA’s instructions and review process for assessing nuclear safety are generally consistent with IAEA Safety Standards. In this report, IAEA made seven recommendations including, “NISA should conduct meetings with residents living near the nuclear facilities that are subject to Comprehensive Safety Assessment,” and made four suggestions.


After submitting the report, IAEA Team Leader James Lyons said in a press conference held in FPCJ, “I had the general impression --- that NISA’s review process for the Comprehensive Safety Assessments is generally consistent with IAEA Safety Standards including stress tests in Europe.”


Mr. Goshi Hosono, Minister for Restoration from and Prevention of Nuclear Accidents, holding a press conference about this report, said, “An international organization has given us an objective piece of advice on Japan’s nuclear control or assessment, trust in which has been eroded.”


NISA’s assessment method of the stress test has been endorsed by an international organization, but whether suspended nuclear stations will be able to resume their operation depends on whether local municipalities will agree on the resumption or not.


Also on January 31, the government made a Cabinet decision on bills to create a new nuclear safety regulatory system. In light of the apparently questionable fact that both promotion and control of the nuclear administration is conducted by the same Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Mr. Hosono, in a related press conference, said the following about a “Nuclear Regulatory Agency,” which the government intends to establish on April 1 as an affiliate of the Ministry of the Environment.
(1) The new agency will be clearly independent from the promoters of nuclear power generation such as METI,
(2) The Nuclear Safety Investigation Commission (to be newly established), as a third party, will supervise the Agency’s independence of control, and
(3) The world’s highest control will be introduced and reactors for power generation will be decommissioned in 40 years, in principle.


Mr. Hosono also said that there would be a wide search for the Commissioner of the new Agency both in the government and the private sector. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said, “(The new agency) should never be influenced by any pressure,” expressing his intention to make the agency highly independent.


(Copyright 2012 Foreign Press Center/Japan)

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