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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Newly consolidated safety criteria for reactor restarts finalized


Staff writer

The government on Friday finalized a hastily drafted set of additional safety criteria for reactor restarts that it says reflects the lessons of the Fukushima disaster.

In a nutshell, the new criteria require utilities to make sure their plants are sturdy enough to avoid meltdowns and the release of radioactive material even if they are hit by quakes and tsunami on a par with those of March 2011. They also must show they are committed to continuous efforts to improve safety by drafting a road map toward that task.

For instance, the new criteria requires nuclear utilities to raise their maximum projection for tsunami heights by at least 9.5 meters across the board because the waves that clobbered the Fukushima No. 1 plant were much higher than what it was designed to withstand.

As for the road map, the utilities are requested take the medium- and long-term safety measures that were devised from the computerized stress tests performed on the reactors, and the 30 safety measures compiled last month by the government's nuclear crisis panel.

Trade minister Yukio Edano said Friday night that he ordered Kansai Electric Power Co., operator of the Oi plant in Fukui Prefecture, where reactors 3 and 4 are being targeted for reactivation, to draft its road map and submit it.

Kepco's draft will be examined by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and concerned ministers before the government finally determines whether Oi's reactors pass muster.

If the Oi reactors meet the new criteria, Edano will brief local leaders on the central government's plans to restart the reactors and request their cooperation, he said, denying media reports that he is planning to meet the governor of Fukui Sunday to press for the reactivation of the Oi reactors.

"I think it's pretty clear that finishing all these necessary steps by Sunday is impossible," Edano said. "People say that the government has already decided to restart the Oi reactors, but I think it is the media that have been making prejudgments."

The consent of local leaders is not legally required, but Edano has stressed the importance of gaining their "understanding," or local consent.

Prime Minister Yoshiko Noda, Edano and two other ministers involved in the decision on restarts met Thursday night to draft a basic framework for the extra safety criteria in an apparent effort to appease Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa, who has been demanding that a provisional safety standard be devised for approving reactor restarts.

The criteria consist of short-term steps, such as arranging for vehicles to supply emergency power during station blackouts, and medium to long-term steps, such as reinforcing coastal levees. The 30 safety measures also include those for reinforcing power equipment and training engineers for emergency venting.

The idea for drafting the extra criteria took everyone by surprise, as Noda only ordered NISA to draft it on Tuesday. But Edano said the government has been ordering so many safety measures and discussing the Fukushima accident in so many panels that it was decided that NISA should spend a few days consolidating findings from past or ongoing sessions into a more comprehensive whole.

As for the fate of Japan's other idled reactors, Edano said if areas can produce enough electricity without nuclear power, he will not approve restarts even if the extra safety criteria are met.

Ensuring safety is the first priority, but "it is the direction (of this Cabinet) to reduce nuclear power dependence as much as possible, so if there is a sufficient power supply or we can survive with a small amount of power conservation, it is natural not to restart reactors," he said.

According to an estimate by a government panel on energy policy, Tohoku Electric, Chubu Electric and Chugoku Electric will have enough juice to get by this summer without atomic power.



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The Japan Times

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