Rushing to restart reactors

Four power companies on Monday asked the Nuclear Regulation Authority to assess the safety of 10 reactors at five nuclear power plants under the NRA’s new safety regulations, which went into force the same day.

The Abe administration and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have presented no clear long-term policy related to nuclear power. They should be criticized for trying to bring nuclear power plants back online by fait accomplis even before the causes of the Fukushima nuclear disaster are established. In addition, the regulations include a five-year grace period for an important safety measure, so once again the nuclear industry would be gambling that a disaster won’t strike in the interim.

While the Democratic Party of Japan was in power, it carried out deliberative polls across the country to find out people’s views on nuclear power. In that process, a majority of people called for eventually ending Japan’s reliance on nuclear power.

According to a Kyodo News poll whose results were made public on May 19, 54.3 percent of those polled opposed the restart of reactors even if they passed the NRA’s safety assessment while 37.2 percent supported it. The Abe administration and the LDP should make a sincere effort to listen to people’s opinions by organizing public discussions in a transparent manner.

The government, political parties and people should not be swayed by short-term economic factors such as rises in electricity charges in the absence of nuclear power. In addition to safety concerns over their operation, which grow riskier as they age, spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste will continue to accumulate but there is no established technology for safely storing it.

One wonders whether the Abe administration and the LDP are aware of these factors. They have yet to present clear-cut programs to deal with a large-scale nuclear disaster or to dispose of accumulating spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste.

The government should present a clearly defined plan to eventually end Japan’s reliance on nuclear power, to encourage the development of renewable energy sources and to end the major power companies’ regional monopolies.

The NRA’s new regulations require power companies to take measures to cope with severe accidents, including construction of sea walls to protect individual nuclear power plants from the largest possible tsunami and the installation of filters to prevent radioactive substances from escaping into the atmosphere in the event of an emergency. The NRA’s new regulations are an improvement, however they are far from perfect. A grace period of five years is allowed for the installation of filters in the 10 reactors that the four power companies want assessed, because they are pressurized light-water reactors, in which hydrogen explosions are said to be unlikely. For example, the new safety measures do not require construction of a hard structure to protect a reactor core against a terrorist attack involving missiles, bombs or 9/11-style aircraft strikes. They also do not mandate the installation of emergency cooling-water storage facilities inside reactor containment structures to help prevent core meltdowns.

The NRA should carry out its reactor assessments in a thorough and transparent manner, and resist any pressure from vested “nuclear village” interests, so that the public can readily understand and trust its conclusions.

  • Starviking

    No established technology for safely storing nuclear waste? Glassification, deep repositories in geologically stable areas, and using waste as fuel in Gen IV reactors.