IAEA official pushes Japan to install quake-resistant response centers for nuclear emergencies


A day after it was learned that Tokyo Electric was late in reporting the meltdowns in Fukushima in March 2011, a senior official from the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog on Wednesday urged Japan to build emergency response centers that can sufficiently withstand disasters at nuclear power plants.

Juan Carlos Lentijo, deputy director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency and head of its department of nuclear safety and security, said a so-called seismically isolated building at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Station “was instrumental for conducting mitigation operations” during the triple core meltdown there in March 2011.

“I think this is one of the major lessons from Fukushima,” he said in an interview.

In Japan, whether to install seismically isolated facilities is drawing renewed attention as the government’s campaign to reboot all commercial reactors mothballed after Fukushima gains momentum. Not all of the nation’s nuclear plants have such disaster response setups in place.

At the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Station, a so-called seismically isolated building played an important role in providing shelter to emergency responders during the 2011 Fukushima crisis, a man-made disaster triggered by a powerful earthquake and tsunami.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. set up the quake-resistant building at Fukushima No. 1 after an administrative building was rendered unusable by a major earthquake at a massive multi-reactor power complex in Niigata Prefecture in 2007. The building was equipped with devices and resources for power generation, communications and radiation exposure mitigation.

Unlike reactor-housing units, the seismically isolated building sustained no major damage in the disaster and is still being used for disaster containment operations at defunct Fukushima No. 1.

Kyushu Electric Power Co. has been criticized by the Nuclear Regulation Authority for scrapping a plan to build a reinforced building with an earthquake buffer mechanism at its Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, which was restarted last year.

Kansai Electric Power Co., meanwhile, said it has not yet decided when to start running a seismic isolation facility at its Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture, which it had earlier planned to startup by the end of March 2018.

Lentijo said “it is important to build a strong center” with “appropriate resources to deal with an emergency, even a severe accident.”

“Fortunately, in Fukushima No. 1, they had this center that survived both — the earthquake and the tsunami,” he said.

And the risks don’t stem only from earthquakes, he noted.

“In other countries the lesson is to enhance this center to deal with flooding, for example, or with hurricanes,” he said.

Regarding Japanese utilities’ plans for seismic isolation buildings, Lentijo said it is for the national authorities, which have knowledge about specific sites, to evaluate.