Japan: Seven nuke utilities told to conduct new checks

Seven nuke utilities told to conduct new checks | The Japan Times Online

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Seven nuke utilities told to conduct new checks
Kyodo News

The government ordered four power utilities Friday to conduct additional checks, along with regular inspections, on seven nuclear plants in order to prevent further data falsifications and reactor defect and accident coverups in an industry that has been plagued with such misdeeds.

Observers, however, see this administrative “punishment” as limp-wristed and indicative of the ministry giving the utilities special consideration.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry did not order any of the utilities’ nuclear power plants shut down, saying that their latest inspections show they are safe.

The order was part of a 30-point set of measures the ministry released the same day to ensure the nation’s nuclear plants are safe and to rebuild public trust in atomic power after past accidents and coverups and recent revelations by two utilities that they concealed criticality accidents and other utilities came clean on defect coverups.

The targeted utilities are Tokyo Electric Power Co., Hokuriku Electric Power Co., Chugoku Electric Power Co. and Japan Atomic Power Co.

Not targeted, however, is Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., whose spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, has a design flaw, a miscalculation for earthquake resistance, that its maker, a subsidiary of Hitachi Ltd., allegedly kept secret for 11 years until it was reported Thursday.

Officials at the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, an arm of the ministry, will also carry out special monitoring and supervision of the seven plants.

The seven are Tepco’s Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 plants in Fukushima Prefecture and the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture, Hokuriku Electric’s Shika plant in Ishikawa Prefecture, Chugoku Electric’s Shimane plant in Shimane Prefecture, Japan Atomic’s Tsuruga plant in Fukui Prefecture and Tokai plant in Ibaraki Prefecture.

The agency suspects the operations of nine reactors at the seven plants were in violation of the Electric Utility Law or other reactor laws.

Meanwhile, the trade ministry ordered Tepco’s Komukawa hydroelectric plant in Yamanashi Prefecture and Hokuriku Electric’s hydroelectric plant in Ichinose, Ishikawa Prefecture, to be shut down until repairs they have done meet government standards.

In the past, the ministry ordered tough punishments, including business license cancellations and suspended reactor operations, when utilities were found to have faked reports on reactor accidents and safety defects.

In 2003, Tepco was ordered to shut down all of its reactors in order to perform inspections and repairs, after it was revealed by a whistle-blower that the utility had covered up reactor faults. At the time, however, it failed to disclose the 1978 criticality accident at its Fukushima No. 1 plant.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Akira Amari told reporters that he wants to remind management and employees at utilities once again that they are tasked with the vital undertaking of providing the public with a stable, and safe, electricity supply.

He stressed the importance of atomic power, calling it the most promising and environmentally friendly energy source for the future.

Asked if he thinks the latest steps are lukewarm since they don’t entail punishment, including reactor shutdowns, Amari reckoned, without elaborating, that the utilities “have had enough social disadvantages.”

“It is most important (for the government) to disclose their irregularities, such as data falsifications, to society and to make them build an accountable system,” he said.

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