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NRA, power utilities should promote in-depth dialogue for nuclear safety

The Yomiuri ShimbunIt is important to raise nuclear power plants’ contingency measures against terrorism to world-class levels.

A case in point is the mandatory construction of contingency facilities in the event of terrorism. The Nuclear Regulation Authority has decided it will order a halt to the operation of nuclear power stations unless such facilities are completed within the targeted time.

This comes after 11 electric power companies involved in nuclear power generation have notified the NRA that there will likely be considerable delays in the construction of such facilities.

There is a possibility that nine reactors at five nuclear power plants could be successively suspended, such as those at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai plant and Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama plant, both of which have already been reactivated.

Halts to operations at nuclear power plants would undermine a stable supply of electricity. There would be a decline in profits to be earned by electric power corporations, resulting in an increase in electricity charges, which were lowered after operations resumed at idle nuclear power stations. Each power utility should hasten to complete its facilities.

The facility in question possesses the ability to remotely control nuclear reactors to secure their safety in the event of such emergencies as a deliberate plane crash. Separate from the nuclear reactor building, the facility should be equipped with, among other things, an alternative central control room.

Since synchronized terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001, progress has been made in building such facilities around the world. In this country, too, after the Great East Japan Earthquake the construction of such facilities has been made mandatory under new regulations established by strengthening the former standards.

The reason for the construction delays is the optimistic view held by power utilities regarding progress in construction work, which entails cutting through mountains, digging tunnels and establishing facilities nearly as strong as fortresses. While this difficult work continues, questions remain as to whether the power utilities had based their construction plans on these prerequisites.

As a result, their likely failure to meet the time limit at all nuclear power plants can only be described as extraordinary.

Smooth examinations

Another matter that cannot be overlooked is the slow progress in examining whether the facility construction plans meet the regulatory standards. This situation will cause delays in the start of construction work. It is indispensable for the NRA and the power companies to strive for smooth examinations.

The lack of communication between the two sides is extremely serious.

As a transitional measure, the NRA set a deadline that requires the companies to complete facilities within five years after the approval of construction plans for the main part of a nuclear power plant.

In doing so, the NRA said that the condition of the construction plans will be confirmed as the deadline approaches, adding that necessary measures will be implemented, making it seem as if the NRA would pay consideration to the circumstances facing each power utility. The electric power companies appear to have interpreted the NRA’s stance in a manner convenient for them, judging that they would be given extensions.

At a meeting in which the shutdown plan was adopted, NRA Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa gave the reason for the decision, saying it was “for the sake of enhancing the safety involved, not just remaining in the present state of things.”

The remark seems to have reflected his view that necessary measures cannot be postponed, in light of the accident that struck the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which is run by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. This might have not been conveyed to the power utilities.

The NRA and the electric power firms need to promote in-depth dialogue and strive to create an environment in which nuclear power generation can be safely utilized.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 8, 2019)Speech



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