EDITORIAL: Why flirt with disaster? Decommission Tsuruga nuclear reactor

December 12, 2012

Breaking away from the “safety myth” that surrounded nuclear energy, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has changed the way Japan judges the safety of nuclear power plants.

The new industry watchdog said Dec. 10 there is a high possibility that a fault line running directly beneath a reactor at Japan Atomic Power Co.'s Tsuruga nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture is active. "Under the current circumstances, there is no way we can carry out the safety assessments (that are required) for a restart (of the reactor)," NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said.

This signals a major turning point in the nation's nuclear regulation administration.

The focus was whether the active Urasoko fault, which runs about 200 meters east of the reactor, could affect the building that houses the reactor.

Five experts said they clearly recognized that the fault situated directly beneath the No. 2 reactor building is linked to the active Urasoko fault and could move in tandem with it.

"The very fact that the active fault is running beneath the compound of a nuclear power plant is abnormal in itself," said one of the experts.

"The (possible) influences from the Urasoko fault are immeasurable," said another.

Their warnings expressed in a meeting show the high level of danger in the current situation at the Tsuruga nuclear power plant.

According to government guidelines, key facilities of nuclear power plants must not be constructed on active faults. If the No. 2 reactor cannot be operated, its decommissioning is inevitable.

Japan Atomic Power should take the NRA's judgment seriously and swiftly review its business plans on the safety of nuclear reactors and future management of the company.

As many as 160 fault lines run beneath the compound of the Tsuruga nuclear plant. Why was a nuclear power plant constructed in such a location in the first place?

When construction of the Tsuruga plant began in the 1960s, studies of faults were certainly not as advanced as they are now. However, we suspect that the people concerned brushed aside the geological conditions because of the safety myth that serious accidents would never occur at nuclear power plants in Japan.

Even when experts warned about the danger of possible active faults, the government allowed nuclear plants to continue operating. We must learn the lessons from the lax screenings of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, the predecessor of the NRA.

The NRA plans to conduct similar geological surveys at six other locations that may be above active faults. They include the compound of the Shika nuclear power plant operated by Hokuriku Electric Power Co. and the site of the Higashidori nuclear power plant operated by Tohoku Electric Power Co.

Electric power companies have maintained a stance that evidence must be 100-percent clear to label a fault as an active one. This stance is simply unacceptable.

In surveying the compound of the Tsuruga nuclear plant, Kunihiko Shimazaki, deputy chairman of the NRA, asked the experts to make purely scientific judgments without thinking about economic and other issues.

It is obviously common sense not to operate dangerous nuclear plants.

However, if the NRA continues to base its judgments on common sense, many other issues will emerge.

It is also necessary to drastically review the future plans of local governments that have depended on nuclear-related grants from the central government, including the Tsuruga city government.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 11

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