JAPAN | Government unveils new safety tests for nuclear plants

Posted on July 12, 2011

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JAPAN | ASAHI SHIMBUN | 12 July 2011

Japan will introduce a new safety inspection regime for its nuclear power plants that will eventually introduce standards modeled on European rules, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano announced on July 11.

This will involve “stress tests” of the ability of reactors to withstand the sort of huge earthquakes and tsunami that the March 11 disaster showed were possible, but which were not envisaged in the original designs of many reactors.

Only reactors that have been stopped to undergo periodic inspections will be subjected to this first round of tests.

The government plans to introduce a completely new safety regime for all reactors “based on new procedures and rules, using as a reference point the stress tests that have been used in European nations.”

The policy document published on July 11 said: “While there are those who express understanding for the safety assessments made by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), there are also many voices expressing doubt. The current situation is not one in which sufficient understanding has been obtained from the public or local residents.”

The document said of the current regime: “The implementation of emergency safety measures (following the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant) has been confirmed by the NISA (under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) and the confirmation of safety has been conducted in an even more careful manner than in the past.”

The actual nature of the first round of stress tests has yet to be finalized. They will be decided by the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan (NSC) under the Cabinet Office and implemented by the electric power companies that operate the nuclear power plants.

They will involve assessing what safety margin a facility has and how it is equipped to cope with disasters not envisaged in its design.

The results of the tests will be confirmed by NISA officials, and the NSC will oversee and ratify the process. The stress test results will be the main criteria for deciding if a suspended reactor can be restarted.

The reformed system, which Edano said would involve a fresh assessment and would not be based on the first-round stress tests, will be conducted at all operating nuclear plants, including reactors that have not been suspended. It will involve a comprehensive safety evaluation modeled on stress tests implemented in Europe and new criteria set by the government panel investigating the Fukushima nuclear accident.

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Posted in: JAPAN