Oi reactors will be idled if fault under them is active, new nuclear safety chief warns

Kyodo

The man nominated to head the new atomic regulatory authority said Wednesday he expects the two reactors at the Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture to halt operations should there be any active fault found underneath them.

Shunichi Tanaka, former vice chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, made the remark about reactors 3 and 4 of the Kansai Electric Power Co. plant after they were restarted last month despite public safety concerns nationwide.

Before the two Oi reactor restarts, all 50 remaining workable commercial reactors nationwide had eventually shut down because of a stricter inspection regimen initiated amid the triple-meltdown disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant and the strong public attitude against atomic power.

“If there is an active fault, we’ll naturally have (the reactors) stopped,” Tanaka said during a Diet session, while being questioned by members of the Lower House Steering Committee. His appointment must be confirmed by both Diet chambers.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency in July told Kepco to reinvestigate whether an active fault exists beneath the Oi plant following safety experts’ warnings about such risks.

Tanaka, an expert in radiation physics, vowed the new regulatory body will be more involved in investigating whether there is a fault under the Oi plant and not simply rely on utilities to probe the matter.

The government hopes to launch the independent new regulatory authority by early September to enforce tougher rules for nuclear reactor operations. The new body will replace NISA, which faced withering criticism when the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant suffered three meltdowns in March 2011.

NISA has been criticized for lacking teeth because it is under the umbrella of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which promoted nuclear power.

Tanaka, who hails from the city of Fukushima, also told the committee that standards for the restart of reactors need to be reassessed, as the existing regime may be insufficient when taking into account technical issues.

Tanaka said that given his background, he cannot deny being considered close to parties with vested interests in promoting nuclear power.

He has been criticized for being on the pronuclear power side, having been part of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, a key panel involved in setting nuclear policy.

The government nonetheless nominated Tanaka as the new agency’s first chief partly because of his work cleaning up radiation-contaminated soil from the Fukushima crisis.

Tanaka also said he is committed to upholding the government policy to basically limit the operation of nuclear reactors to 40 years.

“This system is needed to ensure the safety of old power plants,” he told the Diet session. “We should strictly check nuclear reactors and take the stance of not allowing those older than 40 years to operate.”He said Wednesday his Fukushima roots could have a significant impact if he is appointed.

“You will have to excuse me because I may impose very strict regulations,” he said.

Tanaka has been an adviser for decontamination work in the city of Date and village of Iitate.

Four others to fill key posts in the new regulatory authority also need Diet approval. They are Kenzo Oshima, a former ambassador to the U.N.; Kunihiko Shimazaki, head of the Coordinating Committee for Earthquake Prediction; Kayoko Nakamura of the Japan Radioisotope Association; and Toyoshi Fuketa of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency.