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Thursday, 17 July 2014

COMMENTARY: Green light for Sendai plant shows lessons from Fukushima unheeded


July 17, 201
By RYUTA KOIKE/ Staff Writer
It clearly hasn't dawned on the central government and Japan's electric power companies that it is impossible to construct a nuclear plant that is 100-percent safe.

That is the only possible conclusion in light of the July 16 decision to resume operations at the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture.

Over the past year while covering the safety screenings conducted by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, one glaring characteristic has stood out: the backward-looking stance of the electric power companies with regard to safety measures at their nuclear facilities.

The utilities have persistently hemmed and hawed when faced with the prospect of having to implement steps that would require a huge investment of time and money.

As if to ignore the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the electric power companies continued to submit understated estimates for possible earthquakes and tsunami. That meant many of those companies had to go back to the drawing board to come up with more realistic estimates.

While those companies have also griped that the safety screening was too strict, most points raised were to be expected in light of the gravity of the Fukushima accident.

The standards established by the NRA are nothing but the minimum level required for safety. If the electric power companies still are unable to comprehend the need to heighten safety, they are not qualified to remain in the business. Nor should they be allowed to seek a resumption of operations at their nuclear plants.

The safety screenings include new confirmation of the procedures to deal with a severe accident in which reactor cores go into meltdown, leading to the release of radioactive materials.

The fundamental point of those procedures is that the electric power companies themselves must bring the situation under control. There is no indication of how the central government would take responsibility should another serious situation occur in Japan.

The problem is that the target of the safety screenings have been limited to within the nuclear plant site. Other important issues, such as evacuation plans in the event of an accident, have been left to local communities.

Local residents who in the past allowed nuclear plants to be constructed in their communities, despite concerns about the technology, now know only too well how unreliable such hypothetical plans can be.

The fallout from a nuclear accident goes well beyond prefectural borders. For this reason, dealing with such accidents should not be left to individual local governments.

Despite that obvious reality, the Abe administration appears to be leaving open the possibility of avoiding responsibility for the resumption of operations at nuclear plants by using the NRA as a possible scapegoat.

What the Fukushima disaster has ingrained in the minds and memories of all of us is that once an accident does occur it will rapidly go beyond what humans can control, and the hometowns and lives of many people will be snatched from them.

Now that Japanese society knows what is involved, does it really want to again use nuclear power?

Allowing nuclear plants to resume operations is intolerable, especially since no effort has been made to gauge public opinion.

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