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Japan unable to reoragnise its nuclear industry watchdogs

April 3, 2012

Protesters demonstrate against the use of nuclear power in Japan after the Fukushima disaster in 2011.

April 1 was the deadline for the Japanese government to establish a new regulatory agency to oversee its nuclear industry. NISA and Japan’s other regulatory bodies were scheduled to be replaced by a single agency that is more independent and involved in promoting safety. After the Fukushima triple meltdown disaster, the worst since Chernobyl, NISA has received severe criticism for numerous scandals, manipulation of public opinion and a poor history of supervision. Prime Minister Noda’s DPJ led government has failed to secure the new agency’s start, and cannot even state when it will be able to set up a functioning agency.  This will be seen a failure for the months old administration, and will make it difficult for him to restart the nuclear reactors he is trying hard to put back online

The Japanese continue to claim that “the accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant was caused by an unprecedented natural disaster in the form of an enormous tsunami…” This statement was made by Prime Minister Noda on the March 11 anniversary. Not only was the tsunami not “unprecedented,” but NISA had been warned that very large tsunamis had hit the area in the past. This was a problem because Fukushim’s protective barrier was built on the false assumption that only low level tsunamis had hit the area. Yukinobu Okamura, a seismologist, is on record at a meeting saying to NISA and TEPCO that a very powerful tsunami had destroyed a castle in 869. Okamura’s warnings were ignored  (see FT report). There was, according to his comments, a historical precedent, which is the opposite of what Prime Minister Noda claimed on March 11. There was also the 2004 tsunami that struck Indonesia and killed about 200,000 – ten times the amount that died in Japan in 2011.

Japan’s current regulatory agencies, by any standard, failed miserably to prevent the Fukushima triple meltdown disaster. NISA, in particular, was concerned more with the notion that the Japanese public might become fearful of nuclear power. Even in its setup “the Nuclear Industrial and Safety Agency, is under the control of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which also promotes nuclear power in the resource-poor country” (see source). In other words, NISA is a textbook example of a conflict of interest.

At the moment, only one of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors is operating, and the government is engaged in a campaign to force the public to accept an immediate restart of the reactors before the summer. Prime Minister Noda declared his determination to restart the Oi reactor, but it is clear that – even with a new regulatory agency – the public are against restarting the reactors. This is not entirely due to being against nuclear power, but is instead related to the “stress tests” the government want to use to show their plants are safe.”Stress tests were developed in Europe to find out the weakness of nuclear power plants and making improvements, so they are not meant to authorise the restart of reactors like in Japan,” said NHK World’s Yasuhiro Kondo.  He added that,”The Nuclear Safety Commission says it cannot confirm the safety of reactors with the stress test results.” This leaves the decision up to NISA. NISA’s position is that, ” NISA says the stress tests confirmed the Oi plant will not cause meltdown even if it’s hit by earthquakes and tsunamis as large as the ones that crippled Fukushima Daiichi.”

This is misleading, and NISA knows it. Not only is the 5.5 metre tsunami not the benchmark by which to judge tsunamis for the Oi reactors (Fukui Prefecture), but some areas expect tsunamis that may make the one that hit Fukushima seem small. What is clear is that Noda’s attempts to force restarts of Japan’s reactors cannot easily happen without a new nuclear agency that can rid itself of the image of ineffectiveness.

Civis Journal

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