The head of the delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) currently visiting Japan has said Japan alone should decide whether to restart the reactors in Japan after the "stress test". The IAEA is to examine the ways the "stress test" has been carried out, and to visit two nuclear power plants whose "stress tests" have been "successfully" concluded.
My guess: A ringing endorsement of the way the "stress test" have been done by the Japanese government, with a few pieces of kindly advice on how to further improve.
There are still Japanese citizens who think IAEA will somehow rein in the Japanese government's drive to re-start the nuclear power plants despite stiff citizen-level oppositions. Sorry. And wake up.
Wall Street Journal has a rather disjointed article on the IAEA mission in Japan this time, with the first one-third of the article dedicated to analyzing the trend on tweets in Japan regarding the danger of a big earthquake in the Kanto region and the last one-third dedicated to disaster preparedness of municipalities within 30-kilometers of any nuclear power plants.
(Never mind that radioactive materials from the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident have significantly contaminated areas that are more than 200 kilometers away, and the government is still thinking in concentric circles...)
From Wall Street Journal English (1/23/2012):
IAEA Says Japan Alone Should Decide on Reactors
By MITSURU OBE
TOKYO—The International Atomic Energy Agency on Monday began a mission to help identify gaps in Japan's safety-check procedure for nuclear plants, to boost reactor resilience to natural disasters, as Tokyo began drawing up emergency plans with local governments.
Underscoring the risks facing Japan, a new research institute investigation has determined there is a 70% chance of a magnitude-7 earthquake striking the Tokyo metropolitan area within the next four years, and 98% over 30 years. The March 2011 earthquake was a magnitude-9.
The latest prediction surprised residents, and grabbed headlines in the local media. The government's forecast, using a different methodology, has been that there is a 70% chance of a magnitude-7 quake hitting Tokyo over the next 30 years.
The term "within four years" began trending on Twitter early in the day, with users saying that while the threat of the big one hovered in the back of their minds, the new calculation has made them more aware of the need to make emergency preparations.
The IAEA mission was dispatched in response to Japan's request to evaluate the methodology of its stress-test safety checks now being implemented on idled reactors. By offering to put itself under international scrutiny, Japan hopes to regain public trust in its safety procedures and bring about an eventual restart of nuclear reactors.
So far, Japan's efforts to regain public support for restarting the reactors has made little headway, with 49 out of the nation's 54 reactors currently offline. By May, those last five will be required to close for maintenance.
The head of the IAEA mission, James Lyons, said a decision on whether to restart Japan's idled nuclear reactors is solely up to the Japanese government.
"We will not be focusing on whether or not it is acceptable to restart any given plant. That is fully the responsibility of the Japanese government," said Lyons, director of the IAEA's nuclear-installation safety division and a former official with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, at a news conference.
Mr. Lyons said the mission will focus on a number of areas in examining the government's stress tests, including severe accident procedures, extreme external events and loss of off-site power supply.
During their nine-day stay through Jan. 31, the IAEA's team of 10 experts will visit two reactors that have recently been certified as safe by Japanese regulators to evaluate whether the checks address all potential risks.
On Monday, the Japanese government asked local authorities within a 30-km radius of nuclear plants to draw up emergency-response plans to possible nuclear disasters.
Such plans have been required only for local governments within an 8-10 kilometer (5-6 mile) radius, but the government has decided that emergency plans should be made for much wider areas in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which was triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
The government also is requesting that plans for major natural disasters be far more specific, detailing the methods of evacuation, distribution of iodine pills for radiation exposure, securing of communication channels and deployment of radiation-monitoring posts.
"The March nuclear disaster has exposed serious flaws in communication between the central and local governments," said Goshi Hosono, minister in charge of nuclear disasters, referring to the failure to alert local communities on the spread of radiation plumes from the Fukushima Daiichi plant in the early days of the 2011 crisis.
Meanwhile, Prof. Naoshi Hirata, of Tokyo University's Earthquake Research Institute, said the March earthquake apparently has increased the chances of major quakes striking the Tokyo metropolitan area over the next four years.
There is a correlation between the number of small quakes and that of large quakes, according to Prof. Hirata. A recent jump in the number of small jolts around Tokyo indicates the chance of a large quake has also increased, he said.
"The balance has changed since March 11," added Shinichi Sakai, a research associate at the institute. He said that pinpointing the exact location of any pending temblor is impossible, but that researchers will attempt to narrow down field of possibilities and revise scenarios of what might occur in the new time frame.
—Yoree Koh contributed to this article.