UN stamps seal of approval on Japan’s reactor tests

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog on Tuesday gave its seal of approval to Japan’s reactor safety checks, but said utilities should beef up plans for managing disasters in the wake of the Fukushima meltdowns.

A delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is in the country at the government’s invitation as officials look for ways to convince a deeply sceptical population that idled nuclear plants are safe to restart.

With just a handful of Japan’s 54 reactors still operational, officials are nervously eyeing possible electricity shortfalls unless reactors are brought back online — something that can only be done if local communities consent.

The government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) asked the IAEA to assess the stringency of the so-called stress tests to which all reactors are subjected before being given the green light to resume operations.

“The conclusion of the team is that NISA’s instructions and review process for the comprehensive safety assessments are generally consistent with IAEA safety standards,” the delegation said in a statement.


But the watchdog said further tests of the reactors should also look at how the utilities operating them would deal with a worst-case scenario.

“NISA should ensure that in the secondary assessment the provisions for mitigation of severe accidents should be addressed more comprehensively,” the report said.

NISA should make sure companies “develop comprehensive accident management programmes … in the area of severe accident management”, it said.

The mission also urged Tokyo to engage with people living in the shadow of nuclear plants as it tries to convince them the technology is safe.

The stress tests were introduced as a way of determining how reactors would cope with the impact of large-scale natural disasters after meltdowns and explosions at Fukushima Daiichi caused by last March’s earthquake and tsunami.

Radiation was scattered over a large area and made its way into the oceans, air and food chain in the weeks and months after the disaster, reversing the mood among Japan’s once nuclear-friendly public.

“In any of these processes, the more information can be exchanged with the people in the local vicinity, the better,” the delegation’s team leader James Lyons told a news conference.

But he noted that Japan, not the IAEA, has to decide on whether to restart nuclear power plants in the country, saying: “That’s not part of our decision making process.”

The energy-hungry nation has virtually no natural resources of its own and relied on atomic power for around a third of its electricity before March 11.

Since the disaster the vast bulk of nuclear plants have been shut down as local authorities blocked their being restarted following routine safety checks or maintenance.

Japan has instead had to massively ramp up imports of fossil fuels and curb power useage as it tries to make up the shortfall in power generation.

More than 19 000 people died in the natural disaster, but the nuclear emergency — the world’s worst since Chernobyl a quarter of a century ago — has not directly claimed any lives.

However, tens of thousands of people were forced from their homes around the plant as radiation levels rocketed, with many not knowing when — or even if — they will be allowed to return. — AFP

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Shingo Ito
Shingo Ito
Dr. Shingo Ito is Assistant Professor in Division of Chemistry and Biological Chemistry (CBC), School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences (SPMS) since April 2018. He received his B.Sc. (2003), M.Sc. (2005), and Ph.D. (2008) degrees from Department of Chemistry, Graduate School of Science, The University of Tokyo, Japan. He was appointed to Assistant Professor (2008-2017) and Lecturer (2017-2018) at Department of Chemistry and Biotechnology, Graduate School of Engineering, The University of Tokyo, Japan. Representative awards he received include Mitsui Chemicals Catalysis Science Award of Encouragement (2016), The Chemical Society of Japan Award for Young Chemists (2017), and The Young Scientists’ Prize, The Commendation for Science and Technology by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan (2018).

Related stories

Covid-19: A case for why we all should wear homemade face masks

Countries that have mandated mask-wearing for people going out in public have shown a decrease in the rate of Covid-19 infections

Hindsight is 2020 for Japan

Tokyo has a history of cancelled Olympics – but a different type of war caused it to cancel in 1940

Develop the Advanced Manufacturing Institute to increase SA’s competitiveness

The institute should develop products that are applicable to different industries, such as 3D-imaging and self-driving cars

What would an Olympics cancellation cost Japan?

Japan has a diversified economy not heavily reliant on tourism. But with domestic spending already weak, the hit from a cancellation could ripple through and further depress local purchasing.

The time to care for older people

One man is pushing for a change to labour legislation that will allow workers to take paid time off to look after their parents

Two South Africans infected on coronavirus-hit Japanese cruise ship

Government was alerted that 12 South Africans were among the crew members on board the ship only at the end of their quarantine
Advertising

Shongweni stink: EnviroServ bosses back in court

Managers charged over landfill emissions want charges set aside

Jailed journalist a symbol of a disillusioned Zimbabwe

Hopewell Chin’ono backed President Emmerson Mnangagwa when he succeeded Robert Mugabe. Now he’s in jail

Covid-19 a ‘catalyst for closing the pay gap’

Executive directors earn 66 times the national minimum wage and are overwhelmingly white, a report by assurance, advisory and tax services company PwC has found
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday