As five years have now passed since the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant meltdowns began, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority on Friday stressed that regulators must firmly monitor the decommissioning of the crippled plant to ease concerns of residents affected by the event.
Addressing hundreds of fellow regulators, NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said towns near the Fukushima plant are still struggling to revive their communities and former residents are constantly worried about radiation levels.
“There are many things that we can do to help them,” Tanaka said.
“First, we need to direct our utmost efforts to the decommissioning of the Fukushima No. 1 plant, so that it won’t be a cause of concern” for Fukushima residents, he said.
The NRA has been tasked with overseeing the decommissioning of the plant, which is being carried out by operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.
Tanaka also said regulators can help by providing more efficient decontamination plans and maps to show radiation levels near the plant.
While evacuation orders have been lifted for some areas close to the plant, nearly 100,000 people are living in limbo after being evacuated.
The NRA chairman mentioned that some evacuees from the town of Tomioka plan to return home to see the cherry blossoms this year.
However, they will only be able to see the sakura blossoms and get glimpses of their hometown from the inside of a bus because they are worried about radiation exposure.
“I think we share the feeling that we want them to be able to see the cherry blossoms, but not from inside a bus,” he said. “What can we do to realize that? What can we do to prevent more people from seeing such a sad scene? I want you to think about it again by taking this opportunity on March 11,” said Tanaka, who has headed the NRA since its inception in 2012.
The NRA was born of lessons learned from the Fukushima meltdowns — the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986.
Before the disaster, the regulatory body was under the wings of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which actually promotes the use of nuclear energy, which is why it was strongly criticized, because its regulators lacked the necessary teeth to strictly regulate plant operators.
Now, the agency has been separated from the nuclear promotional body and boasts a considerable degree of independence from politicians.