The Nuclear Regulation Authority has turned down a request from power companies to extend the deadlines for installing facilities in nuclear power plants to ensure their safety against terrorism attacks, as required under the revamped plant safety standards introduced in the wake of the March 2011 meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holding’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant. The decision is expected to force the power companies to halt the operation of several reactors, since they anticipate missing the deadlines for the completion of the counterterrorism facilities by at least a few years. The NRA is right to insist that the power companies comply with the safety requirement under its standards. The power companies must expedite their efforts to build the mandatory facilities as promptly as possible.
The post-Fukushima safety standards introduced in 2013 mandate that power companies build facilities on the premises of their nuclear plants that allow remote control of reactor cooling systems to make sure they can continue to operate and avert a meltdown in the event of a terrorist attack, such as a large aircraft being crashed into a plant. To be safe from attacks on the plant itself, such a facility needs to be built at a distance — at least 100 meters from the plant — and be equipped with multiple power-supply sources to maintain functions over a long period. It also must be robust enough to withstand earthquakes.
Initially, the power companies were required to build such facilities at their plants by 2018, but as the NRA screening of the power companies’ plans to revamp the safety features of their plants to restart them became protracted, the deadlines were extended to allow the firms to complete such facilities within five years after their plans receiving NRA approval. Six years after the new regulation was introduced, however, none of the power companies have completed the counterterrorism facilities at their nuclear plants.
Citing the large-scale work needed to build such facilities, Kyushu Electric Power, Kansai Electric Power and Shikoku Electric Power have told the NRA that completion of the facilities for 10 reactors at five power plants that have either been reactivated or are expected to be put back online in coming years would miss the deadlines by up to 2½ years and asked that the deadlines be extended. Reactor 1 at Kyushu Electric Power’s Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, which in 2015 became the first reactor to be put back online under the 2013 regulation, will be the first to face the deadline — in March 2020. During a meeting last week, NRA members reached a decision to turn down the request from the power companies and to call on them to halt the operation of their plants if they miss the deadlines.
Once the power companies halt the operation of the reactors, they won’t be able restart them until the mandatory facility has been completed. Building the counterterrorism facilities will entail large-scale investments — in addition to the hundreds of billions of yen that the power companies have had to spend to beef up the safety features of the plants to clear the NRA screening. Kansai Electric estimates that it needs to spend a total of more than ¥400 billion to build counterterrorism facilities at its Takahama, Oi and Mihama nuclear power plants. Kyushu Electric reportedly expects that construction of the facilities at its Sendai plant will cost over ¥200 billion.
Since the installation of counterterrorism facilities is a part of the revamped plant safety regulations — which the government has even called the world’s most stringent as it pushed for the reactivation of idled reactors once they clear the NRA screening based on the new standard — the counterterrorism facilities should have been completed before the reactors were restarted. Further pushing back their deadlines is unacceptable since that amounts to allowing the power companies to run their plants under conditions that do not fully meet the new standard.
The power companies need to recognize that the safety revamp of their plants according to the NRA standard is incomplete without the facilities — and that they are currently operating their reactors without adequate measures in place to protect the plants in the event of terrorist attacks.
NRA Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa said it is hard to imagine a substitute measure to serve the function of the counterterrorism facility. It would be extremely regrettable if the power companies had put the counterterrorism measures of their plants on the back burner. They must redouble the efforts to fulfill the commitments that they made to revamp the safety of their plants when they sought to restart them.