Japan’s nuclear regulatory faults

I have been concerned that standards might be lax in China, where corruption is common — leading some day to a nuclear accident that would discredit nuclear power outside of China. I was not concerned about Japan… I was wrong.

Cyril R. summarized the most troubling faults in the following BNC comment. I said “troubling faults” because I think evidence is accumulating of regulatory capture in Japan. Japan’s regulators [Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA)] have (presumably) worked with the US NRC for years, so I have to infer that these issues were known.

Brian, the fuel adjacent to the reactors is perfectly safe; it was the fresh spent fuel stored above the reactor building that is not safe. In my opinion, this is a design flaw – you don’t store spent fuel high up in the reactor building in a pool with only electricity based cooling capability. Storing spent fuel in a large below grade pool of water is perfectly safe, as Fukushima proved, and so is dry cask storage, which is also fine at Fukushima.

I do agree that the design basis events were too low for this location and this is a puzzle and a worry – why did regulators allow such a small tsunami as design basis? Why did the designers allow such a low level of tsunami protection? Why was there no electric generator attached to the steam driven turbine decay heat cooling system? Why were there no high class carbon filters on the emergency steam venting lines?

These are all design flaws that must be fixed.

Cyril is responding to this earlier comment by Brian:

(…) 3) The failure of the political system to allow for safe storage and disposal of waste, leading to the storage of large quantities of spent fuel adjacent to reactors.(…)

I remain concerned about China, India, Russia – everywhere nuclear power is active. Properly designed, built and operated, nuclear plants are safer than any other base load power. But nuclear is subject to emotional political constraints, so I can only hope that the politicians are not given other bad examples.

Oh – Wikipedia has a page on Japan nuclear, which includes a bit on these regulatory flaws:

In 2006 a Japanese government subcommittee was charged with revising the national guidelines on the earthquake-resistance of nuclear power plants, which had last been partially revised in 2001,[25] resulting in the publication of a new seismic guide — the 2006 Regulatory Guide for Reviewing Seismic Design of Nuclear Power Reactor Facilities.[25] The subcommittee membership included Professor Ishibashi, however his proposal that the standards for surveying active faults should be reviewed was rejected and he resigned at the final meeting, claiming that the review process was ‘unscientific’[15][26] and the outcome rigged[26][27] to suit the interests of the Japan Electric Association, which had 11 of its committee members on the 19-member government subcommittee.[27] Ishibashi has subsequently claimed that, although the new guide brought in the most far-reaching changes since 1978, it was ‘seriously flawed’ because it underestimated the design basis earthquake ground motion.[13] He has also claimed that the enforcement system is ‘a shambles’[22][13] and questioned the independence of the Nuclear Safety Commission after a senior Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency official appeared to rule out a new review of the NSC’s seismic design guide in 2007.[13]

The Western media is generally useless on science-based reportage, but very experienced in the “blame game”.

2 thoughts on “Japan’s nuclear regulatory faults

  1. I don’t buy the exceptionism.
    Judge them vs. Japanese regulation of hazardous chemicals and Japanese regulation of fossil fuels.

    Nobody has died from radiation poisoning in Japan. Hundreds have died from failed dams, unknown tens or hundreds from refinery fires after the earthquake/tsunami.

    I think the nuclear regulators there can argue they’ve done a fine job.

  2. I agree that we’ve no direct public health consequences as yet. Hopefully TEPCO does not have to cope with another major tremblor or tsunami — because Fukushima Daiichi is in a fragile, metastable state. My fingers are crossed that TEPCO achieves real stability before any more ‘acts of God’ come along.

    Why are we in this risky posture? If these plants had their SBO backups and spent fuel pools sensibly located, then the plants would not be metastable today. They might well have achieved cold shutdown in spite of the flooding – just like their sister NPP Fukushima Daini.

    Sorry – I don’t understand your comment “Judge them vs. Japanese regulation of hazardous chemicals and Japanese regulation of fossil fuels.” If you mean that NPP should be regulated to risk/cost standards similar to the chemical or petrochemical industries – then I have to agree. But does that mean it is OK to expose several key components of SBO backup to wipeout by flooding?

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