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Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012

Overseas experts urge Japan to create 'safety culture' in nuke power industry


Staff writer

Visiting overseas nuclear experts on Saturday urged Japan to create a culture of safety among its power companies and energy industry regulators, calling this the best way to avoid another nuclear disaster.

"The most fundamental obligation perhaps is to establish an appropriate safety culture among all those involved in nuclear enterprise," Richard Meserve, former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told a news conference in Tokyo.

A two-day meeting between the overseas experts and an independent panel created by the government to investigate the Fukushima nuclear crisis ended earlier the same day.

"Safety culture should reflect a commitment that safety is the highest priority (and) that it should come ahead of cost, production and schedules," Meserve said.

At the meeting hosted by the panel in Tokyo, its members explained a 500-page interim report it issued in December to five nuclear experts from the U.S., Europe, China and South Korea, seeking to reflect their opinions and advice in the final version of the report this summer.

The experts advised the panel to consider expanding domestic discussion on establishing a culture of safety at nuclear power plants, an area the panel itself highlighted as problematic in its interim report.

Many workers and regulators in the nuclear power industry related never expected a major crisis such as the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 power station to occur in Japan, according to the report. It also says that people promoting the use of nuclear energy were reluctant to explain its potential negative aspects. Instead, they kept insisting that nuclear power plants were safe and this complacency hindered efforts to thoroughly prepare for a possible major nuclear accident.

For instance, sufficient measures to guard against a long-term power blackout or a massive tsunami at atomic energy plants failed to be taken.

Meserve, currently president of the Washington-based Carnegie Institution for Science, said he was interested to learn that a study had been carried out prior to the Fukushima disaster suggesting the possibility that tsunami much larger than those predicted by Tokyo Electric Power Co. could strike the area around the Fukushima No. 1 plant, but that the process of addressing the risk was extremely slow.

"What is improbable is possible. We must be aware of the fact that an accident is always possible. We must be prepared to deal with it," said Andre-Claude Lacoste, another of the experts and chairman of France's nuclear safety body.

He said that one difference between Japan and France was that after the 1986 Chernobyl accident, French authorities made sure it raised awareness about the risk of major accidents occurring at its nuclear power plants. Since Chernobyl, France has emphasized training workers engaged in nuclear-related work to instruct them how to handle emergency situations.

Lars-Erik Holm, head of Sweden's National Board of Health and Welfare, said he expects the panel to include a chapter on safety culture in its final report to demonstrate what "the problem was and what needs to be fixed in Japan."

Information from Kyodo added



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