Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Japan's Nuclear Regulatory Authority: "We will need a long time to change safety culture" but "We will restart some reactors in one year"

NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka has no problem, actually he is extremely proud and confident, in executing the new, world-toughest regulatory standards for the nuclear power plants in Japan which he and his group of scientists and industry advisors and bureaucrats came up with in less than 6 months.

For their defense, they had no choice, as the law that created the Nuclear Regulatory Authority in September 2012 specified that the NRA come up with the new standards within 10 months.

The 80-strong inspection members in 4 groups (3 groups for inspecting the facilities, one group specializing in earthquakes and tsunami assessment) are confident they can finish inspection of the physical plants, after they pour over thousands of pages of each application for restart (there have been 10 so far, and four more to come) in 6-month time.

From Reuters (7/4/2013; emphasis is mine):

Japan says building nuclear safety culture will take a long time

By Aaron Sheldrick and Kentaro Hamada

(Reuters) - Japan's nuclear regulator said on Thursday that elevating safety culture to international standards will "take a long time", days before new rules come into effect to avoid a repeat of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011.

An earthquake and tsunami killed nearly 20,000 people and triggered the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years when the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant was destroyed, leaking radiation into the sea and air.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority admitted that the awareness of the dangers related to working with nuclear technology had been weak prior to the disaster and that it hoped new standards would force the companies to change their approach.

"The new regulations include extremely stringent requirements that the operators would not be able to endure if they don't change their culture," authority chairman Shunichi Tanaka told reporters.

"We will need a long time to change this culture, but day-to-day efforts to meet those tough standards will in the end lead to the improvement in the safety culture."

Tokyo Electric Power Co, operator of the Fukushima plant that had three meltdowns, Kansai Electric Power Co and three other listed nuclear operators have said they will apply for restarts after the rules go into effect.

Tanaka declined to comment on whether he considered Tokyo Electric - still struggling to contain leaks and power cuts at its ravaged plant - fit to operate nuclear facilities. He added that whether the company will be given a green light would depend on the contents of its application.

Only two of Japan's 50 reactors are running and the decision by the previous government to start them up last year was met with the biggest protests in decades and contributed to its defeat in polls in December.

According to an Asahi newspaper poll in June, 59 percent of respondents were opposed to the new government's plans to use nuclear power to help turn the economy around.

Without reactors running, the utilities have been forced to turn to fossil fuels instead, especially costly liquefied natural gas (LNG).

The fall in the value of the yen means they face a fuel import bill of 3.8 trillion yen this business year, double the year before the Fukushima disaster, according to a recent government study.

Upgrades the Nuclear Regulation Authority requires in its quest to impose the world's toughest earthquake and tsunami standards will cost the industry an estimated $12 billion, according to Tom O'Sullivan, an independent energy analyst based in Tokyo.

Tanaka stressed that the new regulator had what it took to impose the new regulations.

"We have large authority and powers. If the operator does not comply with our regulations, they won't be able to operate, let alone restart their reactors," he said.

Well, judging from the very fact that the operators of 10 reactors were able to submit applications that run thousands of pages on the very first day under the new regulatory standards, the "extremely stringent requirements that the operators would not be able to endure if they don't change their culture" may not be that stringent after all.

So, the Japanese way to develop "safety culture" is to hastily come up with new regulatory standards, hastily enforce it, hastily accept applications, hastily inspect the plants, hastily restart the plants that passed the hasty inspection based on the hastily crafted regulatory standard, and see what happens and hope no accident happens in the lifetime of the stakeholders.

Sounds like a game.

Reuters' latest article (7/9/2013) on the NRA's new regulation quotes an NRA commissioner Kenzo Oshima saying:

"Some units are projected (to restart) one year from now, though I don't know how many," Kenzo Oshima, a commissioner of Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority, told Reuters. "It is hard to imagine that all the applications would be rejected, though we don't know what the outcome will be at the moment."

Kenzo Oshima is the only commissioner in the Nuclear Regulatory Authority who is not a scientist. He was a career bureaucrat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

I occasionally listen to the live netcast of NRA's press conference, and when I do I am often impressed with questions from the Japanese reporters working for foreign news agencies like Reuters, AP, New York Times, etc. They ask tough questions, and they do not easily give up, because they have articles to write for tougher audience.


Scott said...

Nothing has been learned and all hope is lost. Will no one from the international community speak out against the ignorance and smugness of the Japanese nuclear regulators and the regulated. The displaced refugees should be engaged by this. Too bad there's no fire in their hearts to match and peacefully stand in the streets like in Brazil and Egypt.

VyseLegendaire said...

I don't really understand the premise of this whole enterprise. It's obviously just to continue the charade(s). If they still have no clear idea of what to do with nuclear waste, how to perfectly predict disasters, its a given that nuclear is unsafe.

I guess the truth is a bitter pill to swallow. Then again, everyone already knows this and is just scared to admit that there is no real alternative to fossil-fuel based growth-strategy. The road to perdition is a long one indeed.

Anonymous said...

It's like if you gave a person an expensive gift and tell them it has a small chance to explode and permanently scar them, they would accept it and willingly take that risk.

Anonymous said...

Try as I may, I cannot make sense out of this:

The NRA "... hoped new standards would force the companies to change their approach."
That's NOW since they need to meet the standards to restart.

"The new regulations include extremely stringent requirements that the operators would not be able to endure if they don't change their culture."
Again, that's NOW since without the culture change, standards can't be met and NPPs not restarted.

"We will need a long time to change this culture, but day-to-day efforts to meet those tough standards will in the end lead to the improvement in the safety culture."
So, a long way away in the FUTURE, the culture will have changed and standards will then finally be met?

Hm ...

Anonymous said...

It's not safe yet, but we gonna do it anyway...
And the ones (NRA )who are saying this, are the ones who said it will take years before the nuclear mura will change to the new regulations. Yeah right! Maybe you should look first at your own behaviour. You ( NRA ) set the standard and when you do so, you already decided that the nuke boys do not have to comply to that for the next 5 years or so.
And that is the thoughest regulations for the nuke industry? if it wouldn't be so sad, I was thinking this is satire.

Anonymous said...

Oshima Kenzo seems to be talking more about horse trading than technical standards ("we do not know the outcome but it is hard to believe all applications will be rejected").

Same goes for the NRA as a whole: PWRs too need filtered vents but we can play russian roulette for 5 more years for those. Why?? If filters are deemed necessary they are necessary today, it's not like PWRs will get much more likely to blow up 5 years down the line.

BTW, has anyone seen Abe risking a brain hemorrage yesterday at Hodo Station while attempting to explain the so called "nuclear fuel cycle"?


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