EDITORIAL | Kishida’s advance is urgently needed to restart Japan’s nuclear power plants

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The ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Special Committee on Nuclear Regulation, chaired by Junji Suzuki, has drafted a report with proposals for more effective safety inspections of Japan’s nuclear facilities. The report was presented to Environment Minister Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in mid-May.

Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) took so long to conduct its safety inspections that only 10 of the nuclear power plants shut down following the 2011 Fukushima disaster have been restarted. Therefore, the Special Committee on Nuclear Regulation has called for the use of enhanced predictive analytics for safety inspections, for example by leveraging inspection data from nuclear power plants that have already passed the inspection.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, world energy prices skyrocketed. This is certainly true in Japan, where electricity and gas costs continue to rise. Amid these developments, reassessments of nuclear power are occurring around the world as the power source provides a stable supply of electric power and facilitates decarbonization.

Prime Minister Kishida also expressed his intention to continue improving the efficiency of inspections of nuclear power plants. Hopefully the Prime Minister will be proactive in addressing this issue and take the lead in getting the NRA to implement the proposals contained in the report. It is important to restart inactive nuclear power plants.

A street monitor in downtown Tokyo announces the power shortage and blackout warning including all of Tokyo, on the evening of March 22, 2022.

Long delays

The standard administrative review process for ANR safety inspections of nuclear facilities has been set at two years. This is in line with the objectives of maintaining fairness and transparency in government administration, as set out in the Administrative Procedures Act.

As it stands, however, the agency has taken much longer to complete seismic fault assessments and other inspection procedures. In fact, we have no way of estimating when he might complete these inspections. Take for example the case of the Tomari nuclear power plant of Hokkaido Electric Power Co., where inspections have been ongoing for nine years.

The special committee of the PLD formulates 10 proposals in its report on the promotion of increased efficiency of inspections for the restarting of nuclear installations.

President Suzuki pointed out, “Although 10 years have already passed since its launch, the Nuclear Regulatory Authority has only restarted 10 nuclear power plants. We have a strong sense of crisis that the Authority’s inspections have stalled.

The Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear power plant is inactive, despite a good safety review.

Recommendations to help

The report urges the NRA to actively incorporate new information about nuclear power regulation in other countries.

It also calls for strengthening communication between the ANR and the local governments of the areas where the nuclear facilities are located, as well as the electricity companies that operate them. For example, it is said that the NRA should inform these parties in depth about the status of inspections.

The NRA is an organization that operates independently from other Japanese government agencies. It is created to perform safety inspections following the 2011 accident at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. Fukushima Daiichi reactor.

While it is essential to ensure the safety of nuclear installations, this does not justify a self-righteous attitude on the part of the NRA. It is natural that the efficiency and transparency of any administrative body should be questioned.

Remember that last March, Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Tohoku Electric Power Co. issued power outage warnings for the regions they serve for the first time. These areas were on the verge of large-scale blackouts.

Bringing Japan’s nuclear power plants back into operation as soon as possible will ensure a stable supply of electricity and help lower the cost of electricity. Prime Minister Kishida must exercise strong leadership on this issue.

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(Read the editorial in Japanese on this link.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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