Friday, 5 July 2013

Row rages over safety of Japanese nuclear plant
23 May 2013

Twenty-six months after the disaster at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, virtually all of Japan's nuclear reactors remain off-line.

Caused by a magnitude-9 earthquake that triggered a colossal tsunami, the crisis at Fukushima has shaken public faith in what was previously considered a safe and virtually limitless source of energy for Japan, and forced the government to reconsider the ability of other reactors to withstand another major natural disaster.

But the 48 idle reactors are not earning any money for the power companies that built them when nuclear power was seen as the remedy for a nation imported virtually all its energy. That is why the position of the Nuclear Regulation Agency (NRA) over the future of the Tsuruga plant in Fukui Prefecture is so important, the environmental groups say.

Active fault identified
After an extensive study, a panel of experts appointed by the NRA has concluded that an active fault line lies immediately beneath the No. 2 reactor at Tsuruga and that it should be decommissioned at the first opportunity.

The study into the seismic resilience of the plant was only ordered by the government in the aftermath of Fukushima and the fault had not been detected before the 1,160 MW reactor went into operation in February 1987.

The No. 1 reactor at the site was the oldest commercial reactor in Japan before it was shut down for a routine safety inspection in January 2011, but has never been given the green light to restart operations after the Fukushima disaster. Japan Atomic Power Co. (JAPC) also had plans to open two further reactors at the plant in the coming years, but both those projects are on hold.

Announcing its recommendation for the No. 1 reactor, Kunihiko Shimazaki, the NRA commissioner, told DW, "It is lucky there has been no accident at the reactor". A spokesman for the organization insisted that the NRA had followed objective and scientific rules before reaching its decision and that it would stand by its findings-but he did admit that pressure was being applied to the agency.

As soon as the NRA's decision was announced, Yasuo Hamada, the president of JAPC called a press conference in which he attacked the agency for not giving his company the chance to explain its position on the matter. Hamada also claimed that the panel's decision was not based on objective data and facts.

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