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Nuclear energy industry needs 'major change' in safety: atomic think tank chief

Kyodo

Japan’s utilities need a “major change” in their attitude toward nuclear safety in light of the Fukushima disaster, the head of Japan’s new nuclear think tank said.

George Apostolakis, a former commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, heads the private Nuclear Risk Research Center, which was set up on Wednesday.

The center will engage in research and scenario assessment with the aim of reducing nuclear risk, and promote individual initiatives taken by nuclear plant operators to improve safety.

In a meeting with industry minister Yuko Obuchi on Wednesday, Apostolakis said he hopes that “the attitude of ‘meeting regulations is enough’ has ceased to exist” in Japan since the worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster unfolded.

“The regulations specify the minimum amount of safety that is acceptable. It’s a responsibility of the (plant) owners to go beyond that,” he said.

Obuchi acknowledged that the nuclear industry was caught up in a decades-long “safety myth” where utilities tended to be complacent about safety once regulatory requirements were met. Her ministry was part of the problem because it was simultaneously responsible for both regulating and promoting the use of nuclear power. The result was 3/11.

“After experiencing the Fukushima accident, we know that’s not going to work any longer,” she said.

After the Fukushima meltdowns, utilities, METI and the nation’s now-defunct nuclear regulator all came under fire for lax safety, promoted by their cozy ties, and failing to consider the possibility of severe accidents. Critics attributed this to the operators’ faith in the so-called safety myth.

Prime among the targets was Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

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