‘Something wrong’ in Tepco’s safety culture: Japan’s regulatory body chief

Kyodo

Tokyo Electric Power Co. needs to improve its safety culture if it hopes to restart any of its idled reactors, the head of the Nuclear Regulation Authority signaled Wednesday, touching on a spate of problems seen before the Fukushima No. 1 meltdown crisis started last year.

Referring to deformed spent-fuel rods at Tepco’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture and 2002 revelations of the utility’s coverup of defects, NRC chief Shunichi Tanaka told reporters, “To tell the truth, I think there may be something wrong (with this utility).

“People on site, with their enthusiasm, knowledge and ability, should serve as a defense that prevents accidents and problems. I wonder if they are functioning properly,” he said, stressing the utility needs radical remedial change if it wants to “keep operating nuclear plants.”

Tepco’s six-reactor Fukushima No. 1, four-reactor No. 2 and seven-reactor Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plants are all now shut down. Three of the reactors at Fukushima No. 1, a complex, based on historical evidence, deemed ill-prepared for the magnitude of local natural disasters such as the one that crippled it last year, suffered meltdowns and will be decommissioned.

Tepco hopes to restart reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa from April. In recent years, that complex was also shut down due to a strong earthquake.

Earlier in the day, Tanaka ordered the secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority to conduct hearings on the “determination” of Tepco’s management personnel to address the utility’s various problems.

“I know Tepco’s management team is in an extremely difficult situation because it has to deal with the nuclear (crisis), but I cannot overlook this matter,” Tanaka said during a meeting of NRA members.

The nation currently has two out of 50 operational reactors nationwide working and disaster-resistance stress tests are required before any others are restarted. Some, including the two now back on, are also being scrutinized over the possibility of active faults running near or under them. Any quake threat that puts their safety in doubt could potentially doom their chances of continued operation.