TEPCO sets up 3rd-party panel to improve nuclear safety, win trust

September 12, 2012

By KENTARO UECHI/ Staff Writer

Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Sept. 11 set up a third-party committee to oversee the reform of its nuclear power division with an eye toward restarting its key nuclear reactors, which were idled following last year's nuclear disaster.

The Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee, which includes nuclear experts from both Japan and abroad, is also tasked with improving technologies for decommissioning the crippled reactors and decontaminating the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Facing strong anti-nuclear sentiment, TEPCO hopes the establishment of outside oversight will help to win public support for its safety reform efforts and pave the way for restarting nuclear reactors.

Members of the committee, which was commissioned by TEPCO's board of directors, include Dale Klein, a former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; management consultant Kenichi Ohmae, a former nuclear engineer with Hitachi Ltd.; and lawyer Masafumi Sakurai, former chief prosecutor of the Nagoya High Public Prosecutors Office, who sat on the Diet investigative committee on the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident.

Recently appointed TEPCO Chairman Kazuhiko Shimokobe, a lawyer who previously headed the government investigation of the company's management and finances and also chaired the Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund's steering committee, will also serve on the committee.

The committee will report to the board of directors on safety and reform proposals made by the Nuclear Reform Special Task Force, headed by TEPCO President Naomi Hirose and consisting of about 10 young and midranking TEPCO employees and outside experts. The task force will focus on a number of key safety issues, including preparation for natural disasters, such as tsunami, and how critical information is disclosed.

TEPCO has also formed the Investigation and Verification Project Team, a separate team of outside experts on law and technology, to study reports compiled by government and Diet investigation committees on the nuclear accident so that those findings can be reflected in the company's reforms.

The project team will work closely with the Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee, and is expected to release a progress report by the end of this year prior to releasing final results.

Currently, operations are suspended at all of TEPCO's 13 nuclear reactors. Under its rehabilitation plan, the company plans to reactivate the seven reactors at the Kazhiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture, its key power generation facility, in phases beginning in spring 2013.

Many Japanese citizens are calling for scrapping nuclear power generation completely, however, and it is not known if TEPCO's current efforts will help the company regain public trust.

Shimokobe, who was appointed chairman in June following a request from the government, once characterized TEPCO's nuclear power division as "a nuclear village that is introverted and often prioritizes its own logic."

By KENTARO UECHI/ Staff Writer
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Tokyo Electric Power Co. President Naomi Hirose, right, and Chairman Kazuhiko Shimokobe (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Tokyo Electric Power Co. President Naomi Hirose, right, and Chairman Kazuhiko Shimokobe (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • Tokyo Electric Power Co. President Naomi Hirose, right, and Chairman Kazuhiko Shimokobe (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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