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Japan’s nuclear regulator is in an unwinnable position

safety-symbol-Smflag-japanNuclear regulators can’t win, Japan Times , 27 Oct 13  THE NUCLEAR REGULATION AUTHORITY – , which observed the first anniversary of its creation on Sept. 19, faces two diametrically opposed criticisms. Proponents of nuclear power generation criticize the NRA as the root cause of the delay in the government’s policy to promote nuclear power, while “no-nuke” groups brand the body as a mouthpiece of the “nuclear power village” (the strong network of public organizations and power companies that work toward expansion of nuclear power).

These bitter criticisms coming from both ends of a spectrum seem to summarize the contradictions of Japan’s nuclear power policy. The NRA has become a skewed organization because the idea behind creating it was to satisfy both proponents and opponents of nuclear power. That has resulted in the lack of capabilities to execute its missions, thus making nuclear power plants in Japan even more dangerous than before.

Besides drawing up regulatory standards, the NRA has during the past year tackled two principal issues: safety inspection of nuclear power plants and the fiasco at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant of Tokyo Electric Power Co.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe got himself laughed at when he said the situation at the Fukushima nuclear power plant was “under control.”…….

The secretariat is currently staffed with a little more than 500 workers, mainly technical workers who came from the trade and industry ministry and the education and science ministry. Of them, about 300 are assigned to examining and inspecting the safety of nuclear reactors, leaving a very limited number of workers to be in charge of the accident at Fukushima No. 1 and contaminated water leakage from the plant.

Although the NRA was patterned after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of the United States, the difference in scale is obvious. The U.S. NRC has nearly 4,000 full-time employees looking after 104 reactors in the U.S. against the NRA’s some 500 employees in charge of 54 reactors in Japan.

The national university professor said that the NRA’s shortcomings are not just in the number of workers but also in the quality of work. He pointed out that sufficient training has not been given to NRA staffers to get them familiar with real nuclear power plants. A nuclear engineer of a power company said that the NRA workers are just a disorderly crowd.

In preparation for the Diet session opening in October, the government planned to double the NRA’s staff to 1,000. But the university professor said it would be “a mere drop in the bucket” because the increase comes from a merger with the Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization (JNES).

The merger was to take place when the NRA was created last year, but has been delayed due partly to the high wages being paid to high-ranking JNES officials who had parachuted down from the trade and industry ministry.

JNES came into being in 1999 following a criticality accident at a nuclear fuel reprocessing facility operated by JCO Co. in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture. It does not have a great reputation for how it undertakes inspection and regulatory work.

The Tepco insider said that even though there are capable experts in the former Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute (JAERI), it has been taboo to rely on JAERI, which merged with the Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation and the Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute to form the Japan Atomic Energy Agency. It must be recalled that the appointment of Tanaka as NRA chief was criticized since he is originally from JAERI…..

Not only has the restart of nuclear power plants been delayed but also the safety of such plants cannot be ensured. As a result of completely disconnecting the NRA from the nuclear power village, Japan’s nuclear energy policy is drifting in the direction not favored by anybody.

October 29, 2013 - Posted by | Japan, safety

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