Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Nuclear Watchdog's Resolve Melts As Summer Crunch Nears
TOKYO (Nikkei)--Six months since its inception, the Nuclear Regulation Authority appears to have eased up on a strict safety-first approach to take some realities into consideration.
The agency indicated Tuesday that it will exempt Kansai Electric Power Co.'s (9503) Oi plant, in Fukui Prefecture, from new safety standards until September.
This will let the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors there continue operating through summer. The new standards take effect in July, but the plant will not have to meet them until regular inspections come in autumn or later.
"When applying new standards to operating reactors, we must provide some leeway by considering the impact on society," NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said in a news conference.
The two reactors are the only ones operating in Japan at the moment. While the authority has insisted that any reactor not meeting the new safety standards cannot be restarted, the status of the still-running reactors was unclear until now.
"Considerable improvements have been made in safety measures at the Oi plant," Tanaka said.
The chairman also indicated an awareness that the two reactors are the lifeline of Kansai Electric's power supply. Without them, the utility's service area would likely face serious electricity shortages this summer.
Tanaka's consideration Tuesday stood in sharp contrast to his January comment that "the Oi plant cannot be treated as an exception."
This shift prompted a high-ranking Environment Ministry official to note that the agency "has softened its attitude from a safety-above-all-else mentality."
The change of heart is also seen in the authority's move to narrow its definition of active faults in earthquake risk assessments.
The NRA had hinted at widening the net by designating any geographic faults created within the past 400,000 years as active. But it ultimately decided to maintain the existing definition of within 120,000 years to 130,000 years and apply the 400,000-year yardstick in only exceptional cases.
Some see the change of government as behind the policy shift. The Liberal Democratic Party-led government has indicated a departure from the previous nuclear-free policy introduced under the Democratic Party of Japan.
(The Nikkei, March 20 edition)