Concerns over safety of nuclear power increasing

PRAGUE — Nuclear plant safety was, as always, a major issue for atomic power operators from around the world who gathered here May 12 and May 13. Discussions took place amid growing public disquiet about the use and safety of nuclear power despite growing electricity demands in developing countries.

Concerns over the use of reactors focus on the safety of the plants and the disposal of waste, which remains radioactive for thousands of years. The fifth biennial conference in Prague of the World Association of Nuclear Operators came two months after the March 11 radiation leak at a nuclear waste disposal plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture. It is the first time the meeting was open to the media.

Speaking at the conference, departing association Chairman Remy Carle admitted, “In the last few months, a particularly strong attack against nuclear energy has developed, particularly in Japan and France.” Yoshihisa Akiyama of Kansai Electric Power Co. said he realizes public confidence is now an “urgent aspect.” The operator of the Tokai plant, the Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation (PNC), failed to react appropriately to the leak, fire and explosion that took place, he added. “The result is the plummeting trust by society of nuclear energy as a whole,” Akiyama said.

The PNC was among six new members to sign the association’s charter at the conference. The charter is a commitment to improve safety.

An organization of nuclear power plant operators from 34 countries, the association was conceived as a reaction to the Chernobyl atomic disaster of 1986. The organization aims to maximize safety by exchanging information among its members, who also conduct inspections of one another’s plants.