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2013年6月22日 (土)

原発新基準 効率的で柔軟な審査が必要だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 21, 2013
NRA must be flexible in applying safety standards to each N-reactor
原発新基準 効率的で柔軟な審査が必要だ(6月20日付・読売社説)

The Nuclear Regulation Authority has decided on new safety standards for nuclear power plants. The regulatory panel must confirm in an efficient way the safety of nuclear power reactors, which have been idle for a long period of time, toward the restart of their operation.

The new standards will be enforced from July 8 after they were approved by the government at a Cabinet meeting. Five electric power companies including Kansai Electric Power Co. have expressed an intent to apply to have 14 nuclear reactors examined with the aim of restarting their operation.

The nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant began when unexpectedly huge tsunami hit the plant, causing an inability to cool its reactors. As a result, a vast amount of radioactive material leaked from the reactors. The regulatory committee took this lesson to create the new safety standards.

Under the new standards, the regulatory authority calls for taking into consideration natural disasters such as tsunami, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions from broader perspectives than they were previously. The standards also require the reinforcement of water pumping and power source equipment, which are indispensable for cooling nuclear reactors at times of severe incidents.

Standards have some flaws

It is indeed necessary to repair weak points in safety measures, which became apparent after the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant crisis.

However, there are also problematic points in the new standards. Investigations on active faults under and around the grounds of nuclear power stations are one such example. The new standards require research on any signs of fault activity up to 400,000 years ago. The former standards required research covering 120,000 to 130,000 years ago.

Even if a fault is ancient, if it is located right under important nuclear power plant facilities and judged as active, it will be difficult to restart reactors there.

Yet, judging whether faults are active is very difficult. There could be cases of misjudgment. We think it would be more practical to consider some technological countermeasures to prevent a severe accident that may be caused by an active fault, rather than seeking zero risk.

The NRA included, as much as it could, in the new standards requirements related to severe accident countermeasures. Some people criticized that too much emphasis was placed on hardware.

It is understandable that some power company officials criticized the standards as excessive regulatory measures designed to prevent them from restarting reactors.

We want the NRA, in examining safety countermeasures at nuclear power plants, to evaluate the effectiveness of safety measures based on each power station's circumstances. We think it is necessary for the regulatory committee to take a flexible stance, such as approving certain facilities even if they do not conform to the new standards if they can ensure sufficient safety features of such facilities.

Old plants face difficulties

The regulatory panel has decided to allow a five-year grace period for putting in place some safety equipment, as it judged other devices can ensure reactor safety for the time being.

At the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors of KEPCO's Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, which are the country's only nuclear reactors currently operating, the NRA will conduct the work to confirm the conformity of the plant's safety features with the new standards through on-site inspections and other procedures. The possibility of approving the continuation of the operations of the reactors has now been reportedly increasing.

We would like the NRA to thoroughly pursue rational responses such as this.

Implementing the new safety standards will require power companies a huge amount of money. According to a power industry estimate, it will easily surpass 1 trillion yen for the industry as a whole to meet the new standards. In particular, it is not easy to recover costs at nuclear reactors more than 30 years old after they are repaired and reinforced. There are likely some cases in which power companies will choose to scrap reactors.

Sharing the burden of decommissioning costs of abandoned reactors as well as measures to dispose of nuclear waste are also important subjects to be discussed hereafter between power companies and the government.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 20, 2013)
(2013年6月20日01時28分  読売新聞)


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