Tuesday 9 July 2013

New NRA Regs.

Today was an important day. The new safety standards for nuclear reactors went into force and, as expected, five electricity boards submitted applications to the NRA (Nuclear Regulation Authority) for inspection of 10 reactors at five nuclear plants. There's an Avaaz petition going round which says 'a decision by the NRA could see reactors turned on in just days!'. That's not true. The electricity companies are applying for their facilities to be inspected - which may take up to six months. Then any additional work has to be put in hand, and finally local authorities have to be consulted. So we're probably looking at the end of the year.

Avaaz wants the ruling LDP to issue a clear statement that local authorities will be able to say no to nuclear power. If only things were so simple. The local authorities don't want to make the decision. They want the government to take responsibility. There was an odd exchange on television the other day. The CEO of Tepco, Mr Hirose visited the Governor of Niigata. It was a stunt, done for the cameras, a face-saving exercise. What they call in Japan sherimonii (ceremony). Hirose appeared as contrite as ever. (Every time someone from Tepco opens their mouth they start with an apology.) Governor Izumida's tone was lightly chiding. He wanted to know why Tepco had announced it was going to apply for inspection of the Kashiwazaki plant without consulting the local authority first (no nemawashi). He also made the valid point that Tepco had built a new filtered venting facility (as required in the new regulations) without consulting the local authority when they are legally bound to do so. This is important as the vent's used to reduce pressure in the reactor in an emergency and if botched can release radioactive materials into the air as happened at Fukushima. Tepco was also accused of putting money before safety. Hirose defended himself well, I thought. He said it was his duty to avoid a deficit for a third year in a row. (It's said that each nuclear reactor back in operation will cut the deficit by 120 billion yen, or 1.2 billion dollars, a year.)

The local authorities are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. They need the employment and income from the nuclear plants but public opinion is anti-nuclear. So they don't want to be seen to be taking the decision but want the government to take responsibility. And this is the point. The electricity companies' business plans are based on the status quo. Costs are escalating; they need the revenue. The government should be working out how to go about decommissioning old or unsafe reactors and compensate as appropriate. There's an election of the Upper House next week. The LDP is the only party committed to restarting the closed nuclear reactors.

It's got hot and sticky though not too bad here. In fact it's quite chilly as I write late at night with the window open. But the TV news reports 1 dead, 3 unconscious and 1,000 carted off to hospital today due to heatstroke.

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