The government on April 6 adopted new provisional safety standards for restarting suspended nuclear reactors that were written in just two days after Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda dropped a previous stance that they were not necessary.
The hastily drafted standards, part of a government effort to get reactors that have been suspended for regular maintenance back on line to avoid energy shortages this summer, limited new demands on plant operators.
Immediate measures required under the draft, such as the provision of power supply vehicles, were already implemented last year under emergency orders by the government following the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Operators only have to draw up plans for other mid- to long-term measures such as the construction of coastal levees.
The outline of the provisional safety standards was approved at a meeting between Noda, industry minister Yukio Edano, nuclear accident minister Goshi Hosono and Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura on April 5, and was formally approved at a ministerial meeting on April 6.
Kansai Electric Power Co. will then have to submit an implementation plan for mid- to long-term safety measures for the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture.
Noda will meet again with the three Cabinet ministers relevant to nuclear regulation to decide whether to restart the two reactors after Kansai Electric submits the plan. Edano is expected to visit Fukui Prefecture as early as mid-April to seek approval from local authorities for the restarts.
Noda had only instructed the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency to compile the provisional standards on April 3, dropping his administration's earlier plan to decide whether to restart nuclear reactors based only on computer-simulated stress tests.
Noda’s administration is eager to restart the reactors at Oi before the No. 3 reactor of the Tomari nuclear power plant in Hokkaido, the last online nuclear reactor in Japan, shuts down on May 5.
Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto attacked the government’s haste.
“There is no way for the government to hastily put standards together and judge safety in a couple of weeks (properly),” Hashimoto said. “Japan will collapse if (restarts are) approved based on these procedures.”
Hashimoto, whose city is Kansai Electric’s top shareholder, also said: “The role of politicians is to assemble experts who have not received money from the nuclear power establishment and tell them to put together (new) standards.”
But a senior industry ministry official said time is of the essence as Japan prepares for peak demand in the summer.
“Unless (the Oi reactors) are restarted by the end of April, we cannot prepare forecasts for electricity demand and supply in summer,” the official said. “Companies cannot decide on production plans in summer.”
The provisional safety standards have three main elements.
First, emergency safety measures must be in place so that damage can be contained when all power sources are lost in an earthquake or tsunami. These measures cover four areas: power sources within the plant; cooling and water injection facilities; dealing with damage to containment vessels; and administration and instrumentation.
Second, the government is required to confirm that nuclear fuel will not be damaged even in an earthquake or tsunami of the same scale as those that crippled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Third, electric power companies are required to compile an implementation plan for mid- to long-term safety measures.
The provisional standards do not fully incorporate extra safety measures that have emerged after the Fukushima nuclear accident.
For instance, the standards do not refer to a separate government order requiring utilities to prepare for the possibility of a multiple-fault earthquake much stronger than previously anticipated. That order applies to Fukui Prefecture, which hosts the Oi plant and other nuclear reactors, among other locations.
The government has also reviewed evacuation standards in the event of a nuclear accident based on international standards, but concrete implementation plans have yet to be put together.
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Gist of provisional safety standards
(1) Safety measures in the following areas have been taken to keep damage from spreading even if all power sources are lost in an earthquake or tsunami. (a) Power sources within the plant; (b) Cooling and water injection facilities; (c) Damage to containment vessels; and (d) Administration and instrumentation facilities
(2) The government confirms that reactors, spent fuel pits and spent fuel pools will continue to be cooled to prevent damage to nuclear fuel that occurred in the Fukushima accident even in an earthquake or tsunami similar to those that hit the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
(3) Operators present an implementation plan for measures to address issues on which NISA called for more work based on the stress tests as well as 30 safety measures based on technical findings from the Fukushima accident.
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