The Nuclear Regulation Authority said July 16 that two reactors at a nuclear plant in Kagoshima Prefecture have passed safety screenings, the first under tougher standards introduced after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Because local residents and officials have expressed support for restarts of the two reactors at the Kyushu Electric Power Co. plant, located in Satsuma-Sendai, Kagoshima Prefecture, operations are expected to be resumed as early as this fall.
The Abe administration had declared that it will allow now-idle reactors to resume operations if they are assessed as meeting stricter criteria introduced by the NRA after the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered the Fukushima nuclear accident.
The new standards demand nuclear operators develop countermeasures against severe accidents as well as impose more rigorous criteria to assess safety measures designed to prevent an earthquake and tsunami from critically damaging reactors. Effectiveness of resident evacuation plans and other factors are not taken into account in the screening process.
Only facilities that are deemed safe based on the new standards will be allowed to resume operations. Kyushu Electric submitted applications for restarts of the reactors immediately after the new regulations took effect in July last year.
Since March, the NRA has given priority to examining the Sendai reactors, which quickly passed screenings on major safety points, such as countermeasures against a massive earthquake and tsunami. The NRA has received applications to restart an additional 17 reactors at 11 nuclear plants, but the Sendai plant is the first to receive its blessing.
The nuclear watchdog intends to make the Sendai plant a model case for approving restarts of the country’s reactors, all 48 of which remain offline in the aftermath of the Fukushima crisis.
The NRA will invite public opinions on technical issues for 30 days from July 17, and later finalize the decision to allow Kyushu Electric to resume operations at its Sendai plant.
At the same time, the nuclear watchdog will examine the utility’s construction plans that include detailed designs of equipment and the company's new safety regulations detailing operation procedures and accident responses.
Based on those screening results, Kyushu Electric will discuss reactor restarts with local governments in a campaign to win their consent.
Although some planned safety features were set to be installed in the latest stages of the screening process, the utility is looking to complete construction of all anti-disaster equipment by the end of July. Completed facilities are expected to be screened by the NRA before Kyushu Electric restarts the reactors.
The NRA has been concentrating on examining the reactors at the Sendai plant, but it will shortly resume full-scale screenings of the other reactors at nuclear plants across the nation that have applied for restarts.
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