Tasks ahead for Japan’s new nuclear regulatory agency

Nuclear regulatory body faces mountain of urgent tasks http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T120920003922.htm Koichi Yasuda / Yomiuri Shimbun 21 Sept 12, Five members of the new nuclear regulatory commission, headed by Shunichi Tanaka, showed strong determination to ensure the safety of the nation’s nuclear facilities and restore public confidence, based on lessons learned from the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear
power plant.

However, the Nuclear Regulation Authority faces a growing number of urgent tasks, including establishing new regulations for nuclear power generation.

The commission must first determine how to evaluate stress tests that have served as a tentative yardstick for restarting reactors in the aftermath of last year’s disaster.

It must also decide what requirements need to be met to allow nuclear reactors to operate more than 40 years–which would be an exception to the government’s new energy strategy announced earlier this month.

It remains to be seen how the commission will conduct research on active faults under nuclear power plants nationwide.

Lastly, it also needs to introduce mandatory countermeasures for severe accidents, including reactor meltdowns, as well as expand disaster preparedness zones around nuclear plants. The fact that the commission was launched with members who were not approved by the Diet has added to these concerns.

Former Nuclear Safety Commission Chairman Shojiro Matsuura, 76, said establishing the above rules is “essentially a job that would take years for specialists to accomplish.

“I’m worried whether [the commission] will be able to tackle the problems without support of both the ruling and opposition parties,” he said.

Considering the head of the new commission will be given greater command authority during emergencies, Matsuura’s concern is reasonable.

The new commission, which has been granted a high level of independence, must pursue safety improvements at nuclear power plants from scientific and technological viewpoints, and keep a distance from political and economic concerns. The public will closely watch its
every action.

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