We oppose the restart of Ohi Nuclear Power Plant Nuke Info Tokyo No. 149
From 5th May this year, all of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors were shut down. However, stating that Japan’s economy would not be able to survive without nuclear power, and that he would personally take the responsibility for ordering the restart of nuclear power plants, PM Noda agreed to the restart of Ohi NPP Units 3 and 4, which was officially decided at a meeting of the four relevant cabinet ministers on 16th June. On 2nd July it was reported that Ohi-3 had reached criticality. Despite the fact that the Fukushima accident it is not yet over no matter how you look at it, PM Noda and the government, who proclaimed in December 2011 that the accident was over, have made yet another blunder. We at CNIC believe that PM Noda and the government’s judgment is fundamentally flawed.
What should we have learned from the accident at the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant? It is that if we see some sign of possible danger in a nuclear power plant it should be thoroughly investigated and all appropriate measures taken to ensure safety. It is totally unacceptable to say things such as, “I don’t understand the science, but from the engineering assessment it looks as if it’s probably OK.” Even having taken every possible precaution, a catastrophic accident might still occur.
The Diet Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission will soon be releasing its report. However, it is unlikely that the degree of damage to the nuclear power plant and its causal relation to the accident will all be revealed. The problem of ‘how to ensure the safety of nuclear plants’ is one that has no ‘right answers.’
‘Safety’ cannot be assured by stress tests
All of this began on 11th July 2011, with the three cabinet ministers at the time, Edano, Kaieda and Hosono, declaring that “the condition for restarts will be the primary assessment of the stress test.” Four days before that, the then PM Kan had stated in the budget committee of the House of Councilors that “all nuclear power plants will be subject to a stress test.” In contrast to the stress tests that originated in Europe, the Japanese version divides the test into a primary and secondary evaluation, and moreover it was decided that the primary evaluation would be the condition for restarting nuclear plants down for regular maintenance. It is hard to believe that at this stage the politicians understood what a stress test is. They probably just had the idea planted in their heads by the bureaucrats, nuclear industry people and their friendly academics in the infamous ‘nuclear village.’
The formal name of the so-called “Stress Test Hearing” that began on 14th November 2011 was “The Hearing on the Comprehensive Evaluation of Safety in Power Generating Nuclear Reactor Facilities.” A total of 11 members sat on the Hearing panel. It was not the kind of event where citizens who live near or who might be affected by a nuclear plant come and listen to the opinions of experts. The process of the Hearing was that the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) would first hear the opinions of the members. NISA would then make a judgment on the appropriateness of the report submitted by Kansai Electrical Power Company (KEPCO) , which would then be passed up to the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) for a final check.
The aim of the primary evaluation is to identify a nuclear plant’s weak points. It is not a set of evaluation criteria for judging the safety of a nuclear plant. The test is simply a computer simulation to assess the tolerance of a number of selected crucial pieces of equipment in the case that a large earthquake or tsunami should occur. That is not a “Comprehensive Evaluation of Safety.” KEPCO itself has still not carried out the secondary evaluation. The NSC approved NISA’s judgment on Ohi-3 and 4, but the NSC Chairman Madarame is reported to have said that “this is not something that can be used to judge safety.”
It has been confirmed recently by Professors Mitsuhisa Watanabe and Yasuhiro Suzuki that there is a fracture zone (i.e. an active fault) beneath Ohi NPP. New discoveries should, of course, be taken into account immediately. The reality is that it is inconceivable that a nuclear power plant should exist in the current location.
The former establishment must take responsibility for the Fukushima nuclear accident
Those officials who continued to push the safety myth and the agencies they worked for should take responsibility by resigning or by being dismantled. In spite of this, the fact that the same old people in the same positions as they were in previously are screening and passing judgment on the safety of Ohi NPP with no evaluation criteria in place is truly outlandish and farcical. At each meeting of the Stress Test Hearing, the members Masashi Goto and Hiromitsu Ino submitted question papers and uncovered doubts concerning KEPCO’s report, but in this totally abnormal Hearing, having three members with conflicting interests, one of whom was the chair and facilitator of the Hearing, these crucial matters were simply ignored.
Incomprehensible events have been taking place one after the other. Two examples are, 1) NISA, responsible for enforcing safety standards at nuclear power plants, rejecting instructions from its superior organization, the NSC, which is responsible for approval of the safety standards, and 2) the Japan Atomic Energy Commission continuing to hold secret meetings consisting only of nuclear proponents to chew over the contents of discussions in the drafting committee for the new Nuclear Policy Planning Council of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, selecting the agenda items and rewriting the report.
In the current session of the Diet, it has been decided to establish a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (with five members) and a Nuclear Regulatory Agency as its secretariat. The independence of these bodies is expounded on as “Article 3 commissions.”* NISA will slide laterally into the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, and it is being said that the ‘no return’ rule will be observed. But how will the selection for the five members of the Commission be possible? Moreover, we also doubt that the people who have made the lateral slide (from NISA to the Agency) will now suddenly be capable of carrying out robust regulatory activities.
With these concerns in mind, we believe that discussions on the issue of Ohi NPP restart should at least wait for the publication of the Diet Investigation Commission’s report and the launch of the new nuclear regulatory arrangements.
Yukio YAMAGUCHI (Co-Director of CNIC)
Reported on July 2, 2012
* Article 3 commissions: Commissions established under Article 3 of the National Government Organization Act. Since impartiality is essential and since the issues deliberated upon require specialized knowledge, these commissions are given a certain degree of independence from the Cabinet while existing as external organs of the Cabinet Office.