Kaieda orders nuke safety rethink

Plants told to bolster tsunami, reactor defenses

by Kanako Takahara

Industry minister Banri Kaieda instructed nuclear plant operators Wednesday to compile emergency safety measures to prevent radiation leaks in the event that their power and cooling systems fail, as happened in the Fukushima crisis.

Utilities, which operate 45 nuclear reactors nationwide excluding the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 plants damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, were instructed to compile a new safety manual and submit it to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency by around mid-April.

The Fukushima emergency developed because Tokyo Electric Power Co. could not immediately secure an alternative power source after the reactors’ cooling systems were disabled, or tap the huge amounts of water needed to cool spent fuel storage pools, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said.

METI thus instructed plant operators to compile emergency safety measures that will avert another nuclear crisis even if massive tsunami were to again cut electricity and shut down the cooling systems.

“I want plant operators to place power supply vehicles to secure electricity and firetrucks to provide water to spent fuel storage pools and reactors in times of emergency,” Kaieda told a hastily arranged news conference.

“I want the manuals compiled and training carried out.”

The NISA, the government’s nuclear watchdog, will check the utilities’ safety measures by the end of April.

After a thorough review of the Fukushima No. 1 crisis is carried out, METI plans to draw up drastic safety measures, including instructing operators to place a reserve electric system to pump seawater and building seawalls to protect against tsunami.

Asked if he believes there was a problem in the government’s safety monitoring system, Kaieda said, “At this point, I don’t think there was any problem.

“We need to thoroughly look into the nuclear incident, and it will then become clear what the problem was,” he said.

French experts

PARIS (Kyodo) A French atomic fuel company said Tuesday its president is visiting Japan with five of the country’s nuclear experts to help on the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, according to Radio France.

Anne Lauvergeon, president of Areva SA, and the experts are expected to offer assistance in removing contaminated water accumulating inside the plant’s reactors, a task currently considered to be of the highest importance because the water has been hindering repair work.

According to Radio France, the five specialize in the removal of radioactive contaminants and in the management of nuclear waste storage pools.

Lauvergeon planned to visit the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on Wednesday before meeting with top officials of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the broadcaster reported.

Areva is commissioned by Japanese power companies to process uranium-plutonium mixed-oxide fuel. MOX fuel used in the No. 3 reactor at Fukushima was manufactured by Areva and was shipped from France in 1999.

Lauvergeon’s visit appears to underline France’s full commitment to support Japan, which asked for its help.