METI nuclear watchdog to oversee all inspections

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has decided to supervise all inspections of nuclear reactors as part of efforts to prevent a recurrence of reactor damage coverups by Tokyo Electric Power Co., agency sources said Sunday.

The agency, overseen by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, will introduce “voluntary inspections” covering all equipment and facilities regarding reactors and put them under state control.

Currently, voluntary checks by power companies are not covered by any law. A series of damage coverups by Tepco occurred during such voluntary inspections.

Aside from the voluntary checks, the state regularly examines reactors, but government checkups only cover some important reactor facilities.

The new inspections, though also voluntary, will be conducted under the Electric Utility Law and offenders will be subject to fines, the sources said. No fine amounts have been specified.

The agency plans to submit a bill to amend the law to an extraordinary Diet session to be convened Oct. 18. It aims to enforce the amendment about half a year after enactment.

The voluntary inspections will be conducted to maintain safety standards at nuclear reactors, and structures such as shrouds and piping will be included. But facilities not unique to nuclear power generation will be excluded.

Under the revised law, the government is expected to confirm the results of the voluntary inspections during regular checkups or by spot checks.

Power companies are to be required to maintain records of inspections until respective parts are completely replaced, and they will be fined if records are lost or falsified, the sources said.

In addition, power companies failing to report to the state about accidents or major problems with reactors will face penalties under the amendment, but they will not be required to report minor problems.

At the same time, the government will ask utilities to decide how to handle information about trouble under their internal regulations and urge them to take responsibility for publicizing such information, according to the sources.