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Back to the future: the restart of Japanese nuclear power plants

Back to the future: the restart of Japanese nuclear power plants

Robert J.

Doctor of Geophysics, University of Tokyo

Robert J. Geller, Doctor of Geophysics, University of Tokyo:

- Applications from operating companies to restart many Japanese nuclear power plants are currently being reviewed by regulatory agencies. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his government have expressed support for these requests, but only if the control authorities find it possible to ensure the safety of use. As a seismologist living in Japan, I find some aspects of the ongoing process alarming.

First, in the three years since the Fukushima-1 disaster, we have not been able to fully figure out what went wrong or how to avoid the recurrence of similar problems.

Tohoku Elecric Power provided full access to an international team of engineers who conducted a detailed inspection of the nuclear power plant in Onagawa, and agreed in advance to publish the report, regardless of whether it turned out to be positive or negative (in fact, the findings were encouraging). On the contrary, TEPCO did not provide sufficient level of access to its power plants to independent experts. The inspection at Fukushima-1 could be somewhat more complicated due to the ongoing elimination of the consequences of the accident, but nevertheless it is quite possible at one or another stage of the work for the past three years. Also, the inspection was to be carried out at Fukushima-2 and other TEPCO power plants.

Second, the government's position is that the regulatory authorities must determine whether it is safe to restart the nuclear power plant. This sounds good - after all, we want engineers (not politicians) to make technical decisions - in fact, it exposes a vital problem. Unfortunately, there are no such concepts as "maximum earthquake" or "maximum tsunami" - the planet functions in a completely different way. Each power plant must be built to withstand certain levels of earthquake and tsunami severity. We call this the design baseline. With an increase in the "design basis", the probability of a destructive earthquake (or tsunami) decreases (and the cost for the management company and, ultimately, for the consumer - increases), but no matter how high we set the "design basis", there will always be a non-zero the probability of an event that could destroy the nuclear power plant. The final decision on which risks are acceptable and which are not is inseparable from politics and should not be passed to the control authorities. The current system poses a moral threat.

It is necessary to exclude cases where the government and the management company can ignore nuclear accidents, simply saying “Sorry, hundred-gai” (“unexpectedly” or “unexpectedly”), as they did after the Fukushima accident.

Thirdly, in my opinion, the Japanese control authorities attach too much importance to the problem of so-called “active faults” in the vicinity of the nuclear power plant, while the tsunami problem, especially on the coast of the Sea of ​​Japan, is not even given some attention. Priorities are the opposite of what should be. Serious tsunamis in the area of ​​the Sea of ​​Japan hit Akita Prefecture and Okushiri Island, near Hokkaido, in 1983, in 1993. The major tsunami in Simane Prefecture in 1026 was confirmed by geological studies. All nuclear power plants on the coast of the Sea of ​​Japan, from Kyushu to Hokkaido, must at least be able to withstand a tsunami more powerful than the 1993 tsunami of the year.

Fourthly, due to the numerous debts that TEPCO faced due to the Fukushima accident and the need to completely change the safety culture in the company, the government completely despatched TEPCO’s nationalization, which was successfully done with the largest air carrier JAL several years ago .

Finally, if the government decides to approve the restart of one or many nuclear power plants, this should happen with the awareness of the non-zero possibility of an accident. Preparations for emergency measures, including evacuation, information and compensation for the victims, should be carried out now. And right now it is necessary to declare these preparations.

Only by drawing a line under the past and clearly informing citizens about what changes will be made, the government can get hope for public support to restart nuclear power plants.

The original is published on the Nikkei Asian review website

Translated by Mikhail Botvinnik exclusively for

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