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Doubts about nuclear plant’s quake resistance

Doubts about nuclear plant’s quake resistance shake trust in NRA

Trust in Japan’s nuclear watchdog, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), has been jolted. At hand is an issue raised by Kunihiko Shimazaki, former acting chairman of the NRA. Shimazaki pointed out that Kansai Electric Power Co. underestimated the maximum shaking that could occur during an earthquake at its Oi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture.

Shimazaki is an authority on seismology, having formerly served as president of the Seismological Society of Japan. While serving in the NRA, he handled screening of power companies’ earthquake predictions for nuclear power plants including the Oi nuclear plant.

After he stepped down two years ago, he re-examined data and found the method of calculating standard ground motion (the maximum shaking that would occur during an earthquake) was inappropriate in some cases, depending on the type of fault. This could lead power companies to underestimate figures, he apparently found in his research.

If Shimazaki’s argument is correct, the Oi Nuclear Power Plant could come under pressure to provide even greater reinforcement against quakes.

The NRA had for the most part accepted Kansai Electric’s data, but following the claim by Shimazaki, a new calculation on ground motion was performed using a method differing from that adopted by the power company. As the figure was below that presented by Kansai Electric, it determined that the utility had not underestimated the shaking, and during a regular meeting on July 13, it decided against revising Kansai Electric’s figure.

Shimazaki, however, objected, saying that the recalculated figure should have greatly surpassed the original figure for standard ground motion. The reason is that during screening, the outcome of calculations is normally multiplied by 1.5 to provide an added element of safety, but this wasn’t done.

The new calculation was performed by the secretariat of the NRA. A member of the secretariat who talked with Shimazaki admitted that the renewed calculation was repeatedly stretched, and had “no accuracy.” The member added, “It’s not known how much leeway should be given.” It couldn’t be helped if the secretariat were accused of adopting its approach to avoid criticism that the estimate for envisaged damage was too low. The fact that the NRA accepted without questions its secretariat’s explanation that Kansai Electric’s estimate was sufficient raises doubts about its competence.

There are no experts on seismology among the NRA’s five commissioners. NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka has expressed the opinion that the calculated figure for standard ground motion at the Oi Nuclear Power Plant doesn’t have to be reviewed. We worry whether quake resistance has been calculated properly.

Shimazaki has suggested to the NRA that it listen to a wide range of opinions from experts in seismology and incorporate the good ones into its screening. Even if experts differ in their evaluations of Shimazaki’s research results, his suggestion to the NRA itself is appropriate.

Tanaka, however, commented, “We don’t have the leeway to do that and it’s not our job to do it either.” We can only be skeptical about such a stance.

The NRA is supposed to be the final fortress in ensuring nuclear safety. We hope that it will try to make improvements to methods of calculating quake resistance of its own accord.

http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20160725/p2a/00m/0na/006000c

NRA sees no need to review maximum quake estimate at Oi nuke plant

The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) on July 27 concluded that there is no need to review the maximum possible earthquake estimate — known as the standard ground motion — for Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture.

The NRA reached the conclusion at a regular meeting after former acting NRA chairman Kunihiko Shimazaki pointed out that Kansai Electric had “underestimated” the calculated standard ground motion for its Oi plant. The NRA said that the result of Kansai Electric’s calculation was reasonable. The NRA then dismissed Shimazaki’s argument by saying that calculation methods other than the current one used for the Oi plant “have not reached a degree of scientific and technological maturity.”

Shimazaki had earlier suggested that the so-called “Irikura-Miyake method” used by Kansai Electric was the cause of the underestimated standard ground motion. The NRA’s secretariat checked the validity of other methods such as the “Takemura method,” but it concluded that ways of taking into account the “uncertainties” involved in predicting standard ground motions have not been established. Five NRA commissioners approved the secretariat’s verification results.

A string of issues over the calculations of standard ground motions raised questions about the NRA’s expertise.

After recalculating the estimated standard ground motion for the Oi plant using the “Irikura-Miyake method” — the same method used by Kansai Electric — the NRA secretariat found that the recalculated estimate was 356 gals, “gal” being a unit of acceleration. Its recalculation based on the “Takemura” method showed 644 gals. These two figures fell below Kansai Electric’s estimate of 856 gals. Therefore, the NRA secretariat determined that Kansai Electric’s figure was not “underestimated.” The NRA approved the secretariat’s findings on July 13.

On July 19, the NRA secretariat effectively withdrew its findings, saying that “They were unreasonable calculations.” Thus, it came to light that the NRA had confirmed the secretariat’s findings without verifying the validity of the calculations. It also came to light that the NRA had not grasped the detailed process of Kansai Electric’s calculation as the secretariat’s calculation result conflicted with that of Kansai Electric. The NRA approved Kansai Electric’s calculation of the standard ground motion in the autumn of 2014, but questions were subsequently raised about the way in which the screening was conducted.

Among the five NRA commissioners is a geologist, but there is no expert on ground motion. At a news conference on July 27, NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka acknowledged that his group was lacking expertise, saying, “That’s what we need to reflect on.” But when he met Shimazaki on July 19, Tanaka bluntly said, “There is no room for listening to outside experts nor am I in a position to do so.” As the biggest lesson learned from the Fukushima nuclear crisis ought to be that the most up-to-date expertise should be reflected in safety measures, the NRA is urged to listen to arguments and suggestions from outside experts.

http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20160728/p2a/00m/0na/006000c

July 28, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , , | Leave a comment

Ex-NRA bigwig demands recalculation of Oi nuclear plant quake estimate

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A former deputy chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) sent the organization a letter of protest on July 14 demanding that an earthquake estimate for Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO)’s Oi Nuclear Power Plant be recalculated, on the grounds that the official NRA estimate is well below that of KEPCO.

The former deputy chairman, Kunihiko Shimazaki, is a professor emeritus of seismology at the University of Tokyo. He had criticized the NRA’s estimate of the largest possible earthquake at the Oi plant in Fukui Prefecture as possibly being too low, and the NRA recalculated the estimate in a different manner but still deemed the projected earthquake as not posing a problem to the plant’s safety. In his letter of protest he wrote that he “could not accept the conclusion” of the NRA, and he called for another recalculation. He said he would hold a press conference on July 15 about the issue.

The NRA’s recalculated estimate was 644 gals, “gal” being a unit of acceleration. The estimate was below a KEPCO estimate of 856 gals. Shimazaki, in response to the figures, argues that the NRA’s calculation method is different from KEPCO’s and so produced a smaller number, and notes that the utility finalizes its estimate with additional calculation under stricter conditions, but the NRA has not done so. Shimazaki says that if the calculation was carried out in the same way as KEPCO has performed its estimate, the figure would come out to roughly up to 1,550 gals.

On July 13, a representative for the NRA’s secretariat acknowledged in a Mainichi Shimbun interview that the NRA’s calculation method differed from KEPCO’s, saying, “It’s only natural that there is a difference (in the calculation results).” The representative avoided giving a clear answer about whether it was right for the NRA to green light the plant by comparing results calculated in different methods.

Shinji Kinjo, the head of the agency’s public relations department, said, “If there is a request (for a recalculation), we will consider it sincerely.”

http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20160715/p2a/00m/0na/001000c

July 19, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment