Japan must pursue a realistic approach toward nuclear power for the sake of energy security while simultaneously enhancing regulatory mechanisms to prevent accidents, according to a senior official of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
“Anything that can be done by renewable sources is very important for Japan and other countries,” Luis Echavarri, director general of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, said in a recent interview. “But logically, you have to be realistic about what the possibilities of the renewable sources are. . . . That capacity is relatively limited.”
While commending Japan’s recent efforts to review the potential of diverse energy sources in the wake of the fatal criticality accident last September in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, Echavarri said that “one of the benefits of nuclear (energy) is that it has demonstrated it can provide a big amount of electricity.”
Two workers died after being exposed to massive dosages of radiation in the Tokai disaster, which took place at a JCO Co. uranium processing plant, and scores of workers and residents were exposed to radiation.
“This can happen in other countries as well,” Echavarri said. “But now I think that all countries have learned a lesson. All the countries in the OECD have reviewed the safety system of this type of facility and I don’t foresee now any possibility of any further accidents of this type.”
Echavarri was in Tokyo this week to chair a three-day international workshop on the safety of nuclear fuel cycle facilities, reviewing the Tokai accident with experts from around the world.
“One of the most important conclusions (of the workshop) is that the human factor is very important,” Echavarri said, stressing the need to improve the quality and quantity of those both running and regulating nuclear facilities and to upgrade technical safety criteria.
Citing the importance of international cooperation as another conclusion of the meeting, Echavarri said the NEA will launch a communication system by fall that would connect all member countries via the Internet so they can better join forces to deal with emergencies worldwide.
Echavarri said his organization will test the system early next year when they hold an international nuclear emergency exercise in France.
Commenting on Japan’s recent decision to reduce to 13 the number of new nuclear plants to be built by 2010, Echavarri said; “We (still) consider that to be a very good policy, given the characteristics of Japan,” which lacks natural resources.
For Japan to meet a United Nations protocol to curtail future emissions of greenhouse gases that was agreed upon during the Kyoto conference on global warming in 1997, Echavarri said: “Nuclear (energy) is going to continue playing a very important role in Japan in the future.”
Echavarri lauded Wednesday’s enactment of a law on the disposal of high-level radioactive waste, saying the policy of the legislation is very much in line with the OECD’s stance on the storage of such waste.
The law, which is deemed crucial for completion of a nuclear energy cycle, calls for high-level radioactive waste — a liquid produced in the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel — to be cooled, hardened with glass and buried more than 300 meters underground.
“We consider that the underground repository is the right solution,” he said.
For Japan to regain public trust in nuclear energy, Echavarri said the institutions in charge must maintain transparency and accountability, and be capable of providing information for the sake of education as well as in cases of emergency.
With governmental streamlining to put the Ministry of International Trade and Industry in charge of both nuclear energy policymaking and energy regulation next January, Echavarri said he expects the Nuclear Safety Council — which is to report directly to the Cabinet — to double-check and ensure the independence of the regulatory body.
The NEA is a semiautonomous body within the Paris-based OECD, consisting of 27 nations and aiming to promote sound development of nuclear energy.