IAEA urges Japan to further improve nuke plant safety tests

January 31, 2012

The International Atomic Energy Agency said Jan 31 that Japan's evaluation of stress tests carried out on shutdown nuclear power plants passes muster, but urged the country to take seven concrete steps to further improve the stress tests.

The IAEA delegation, which arrived in Japan on Jan. 23, handed over a summary of a report to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in NISA’s head office in Tokyo the same day.

According to the report, the criteria and implementation of Japan’s stress tests are consistent with the IAEA safety standards. However, it recommended the Japanese government take seven additional steps.

One was “to make clear what the government expects in the implementation of the stress tests and evaluation of the test results.” Another was “to set the standards the government expects.”

The government has yet to define a safety margin for the stress tests.

“We have received excellent cooperation, and all of our questions have been answered,” James Lyons, the head of the team that included five IAEA and three international experts, said at a news conference in Tokyo on Jan. 31. “We were satisfied with the work (NISA) had done as part of a primary session.”

Lyons, director of the IAEA’s Nuclear Installation Safety Division, said that if residents living near nuclear power plants participate in discussions to evaluate stress test results, their understanding of the safety of the plants will improve.

“NISA has been really good at putting information on their website, but we feel it would be good if they would have meetings in the vicinity of the nuclear power plants and discuss their findings with the local populace,” he said.

Stress tests look into how much safety room the equipment of nuclear reactors have if they are hit by powerful earthquakes or tsunami. So far, NISA has received reports on the results of stress tests on 15 nuclear reactors. Of these, the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors of the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, operated by Kansai Electric Power Co., have received the draft evaluation reports from the agency, which read that the results of stress tests on them are “appropriate.”

The Nuclear Safety Commission of the Cabinet Office plans to study the reports to determine if KEPCO can resume operations of the two reactors. However, there is no guarantee that the utility will be able to gain the consent of local governments to bring the nuclear reactors back online.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Jan. 31 approved bills on reform measures to improve the safety of nuclear power generation. The bills contain a stipulation for the establishment of the nuclear power regulatory agency as an affiliated organization of the Environment Ministry.

They also stipulate that the operation period of nuclear reactors is 40 years in principle, but can be extended by up to 20 years in exceptional cases.

(Compiled from reports by Tatsuyuki Kobori and Sophie Knight)

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James Lyons, left, head of the IAEA’s fact-finding team, hands over a report on Japan’s stress tests to Hiroyuki Fukano, director-general of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, in Tokyo on Jan. 31. (Toshiyuki Hayashi)

James Lyons, left, head of the IAEA’s fact-finding team, hands over a report on Japan’s stress tests to Hiroyuki Fukano, director-general of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, in Tokyo on Jan. 31. (Toshiyuki Hayashi)

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  • James Lyons, left, head of the IAEA’s fact-finding team, hands over a report on Japan’s stress tests to Hiroyuki Fukano, director-general of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, in Tokyo on Jan. 31. (Toshiyuki Hayashi)

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