New Safety Standards Clear Nuclear Fog in Japan

In Japan, where all but two of 50 reactors remain shuttered for safety checks following the 2011 Fukushima catastrophe, at least four major utilities were gearing up to apply for safety screening of 12 reactors across six plants.

This June, the September 2012–established independent Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) adopted new safety standards that nuclear generators must meet before they can restart. The new standards consist of three parts: design-basis safety standards, severe accident measures, and safety standards relative to earthquakes and tsunamis. Among new requirements will be specific countermeasures against serious incidents like core meltdown. Plants will also need to install filtered venting systems to reduce emissions of radioactive substances and create an emergency control room where personnel could operate reactors remotely in the event of a disaster.

Japan’s Cabinet in June, meanwhile, approved an annual energy white paper that records energy policy achievements between August 2012 and March 2013. Prepared by the December-elected Liberal Democratic Party, the report skips reference to the Democratic Party of Japan’s energy strategy to phase out nuclear power in light of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. The zero-nuclear goal shows up in the white paper only once—as part of a quote by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe criticizing the energy strategy.

The country went nuclear-free for a brief period between May 2011, when all reactors were shut down for inspection, and July 2011, after restart of Ohi Units 3 and 4, but it has struggled to meet normal year demand peaks. At times, the government has been compelled to force power saving by invoking the Electricity Business Act.

Sonal Patel is POWER’s senior writer.