Tepco’s Kashiwazaki nuclear plant safer after upgrades, inspectors say

by

Staff Writer

The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant has become safer in terms of physical hardware, while plant workers appear to be improving their emergency-response skills, overseas experts who inspected the facility Thursday said.

Members of a Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee, which is keeping a watch on Tokyo Electric Power Co., visited the Kashiwazaki plant for the first time to check whether the utility had made progress on safety. It is the world’s largest nuclear power plant, housing seven reactors.

“From what we’ve seen with the physical improvements, I believe the plant is much safer than it has been in the past,” said Dale Klein, a former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission who heads the monitoring committee.

All the reactors at the plant, located in the city of Kashiwazaki in Niigata Prefecture, are currently idle.

Tepco has applied to the Nuclear Regulation Authority for safety checks on reactors No. 6 and No. 7.

It is still unclear when the nuclear watchdog will finish its inspections and make a decision on whether the plant meets new safety standards drafted after the Fukushima accident triggered by the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami.

The new standards require structural reinforcement to withstand natural disasters, such as seawalls, an extra complex to remotely cool reactors and a new ventilation system that will filter and reduce radioactive particles in the event that gas needs to be released from the reactors if internal pressure rises to a dangerously high level.

The number of emergency generators, water cannons and fireproofing cables at the plants also must be increased.

As part of the tour, inspectors viewed upgrades such as a 10-meter wall to block tsunami, and watertight modifications to walls, doors and pipes in critical facilities such as reactor buildings. Tepco also showed a new 20,000-ton water reservoir that can be used to cool fuel rods and demonstrated a water cannon device that can shoot as high as 50 meters and far as 100 meters.

“I think from the community perspective, they should have high confidence that proper physical protections have now been taken,” said Klein.

The committee members also got to see a disaster simulation drill in which the utility randomly picked an accident scenario to see how workers coped with it.

Klein stressed the importance of training, saying that the committee is focusing on the “people’s issues.”

“Do they have a good safety culture? Are they asking the right questions? Are they properly trained? Are they responsive?”

“We will continue to monitor this, but so far we’ve been pleased with what we’ve seen,” Klein said.

  • Starviking

    And if we were serious about climate change, this news would be leaving people wondering “why aren’t we switching them on then?”.

    Sadly, what the majority response will be is: “They’re safer? We’ve got to close them down now, before they’re restarted!”

  • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

    Tepco’s Kashiwazaki nuclear plant safer after upgrades, inspectors say= brown paper envelopes stuffed with cash of correct weight?

  • Richard Solomon

    I wonder if these physical safety changes are sufficient.

    A 10 meter wall would not have stopped the tsunami that hit Fukushima in March 2011. Shouldn’t it be higher?

    Is a 20,000 gallon water reservoir sufficiently large enough to cool ALL the spent fuel in the event of a disaster? Much safer would be a system for transferring all spent fuel into dry casks made of cement. These would be much more sturdy, safer way to store spent fuel.

    Has a thorough evacuation plan been developed? Are a sufficient number of buses and other vehicles in place in the event that it is needed? Have the plant personnel and community people been trained as to how to coordinate such a plan? This is not something that can be hastily done after a disaster has taken place.

    Finally, it should be noted that the NRC here in the USA has a very poor record of safety oversight. There have been numerous incidents where it failed to enforce safety rules, loosened such rules in a problematic way, refused to require sound additional screening be added, etc. Many here believe that it is pro industry rather than pro safety and environment.

    I would have more confidence if someone outside the established industry were involved in overseeing the restart. An organization called the Union of Concerned Scientists, for example, has experts on nuclear power who can provide needed objective perspective and recommendations. Of course, TEPCO and by extension PM Abe would oppose such a person being involved because it would probably require more expensive upgrades, etc. Eg, putting spent fuel into dry casks is not cheap!

    • jimhopf

      Actually, Fukushima showed that rapid evacuation is unnecessary (and may be counter-productive), even in a worst-case accident event.

      NRC pro-industry? Ridiculous! Nuclear power regulations are excessive, relative to the actual risks and potential hazards involved. How can anyone claim that NRC has a poor record when the fact is that US nuclear power has not caused any public deaths and has never had any measurable public health impact. Meanwhile, competing sources of power generation (esp. coal) continue to cause ~10,000 American deaths every single year, along with global warming.

      You know what’s really NOT pro-safety and pro-environment? Using fossil fuels instead of nuclear power (the way Japan is right now).

    • Marine Gunner

      Mr. Solomon apparently has very little knowledge of nuclear technology, the electric power industry, or the NRC. His statements are consistently incorrect, paranoid, and short-sighted, not to mention ill-informed. While I appreciate and understand gut reaction to the unknown, it would require very little conscientious effort for Mr. Solomon to expand his knowledge base in order to rescue himself from the Chicken Little Brigade. Meanwhile, here are some facts. The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission may be the single most professional, objectively neutral government agency in the world and is the “gold standard” that all international agencies attempt to mimic for that reason. I can say authoritatively from years of personal experience that they are as tough as any regulatory agency can possibly be and still have an industry. Secondly, it is important to note that, contrary to disinformation from Mr. Solomon and his friends, the nuclear power industry is the single safest heavy industry in the world and in all of history. During their sixty-plus years of operation, commercial reactors have not killed a single person; not one. Commercial aircraft fall out of the sky on a regular basis, killing thousands almost every year. Scores of thousands die in traffic accidents each year. Doctors kill more people through “medical misadventure” (federal statistics) than are killed with guns. And lightening strikes have killed thousands in the past six decades but no one has been killed by nuclear plant generated radioactive effect. This is a PERFECT safety record, thanks to two things: The NRC and the powerful but relatively benign nature of nuclear reactor technology. In fact, just in case no one noticed. at Fukushima-Daiichi in Japan, the largest earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japanese history struck nuclear reactors designed in the 1950s, drowned their backup power supplies, and deprived them of cooling for days, yet they did not explode as some like to postulate, and in the midst of a literal sea of disaster that killed tens of thousands of people, destroyed millions of acres of land, damaged millions of buildings, and caused billions of dollars of damage, Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plants died without harming anyone but Tokyo Electric Power Company stockholders. How good is that? We should shut down all fossil plants, solar plants, and wind farms and replace them with safe nuclear power plants. One more thing. The newest, fourth generation nuclear power plants now being designed and built are orders of magnitude more robust and safer than the plants that died at Fukushima-Daiichi without harming anyone.