Japan’s Legally Safe Reactors Still at Risk, Regulator Says

Atomic reactors deemed safe by Japan’s nuclear regulator are still at risk from temblors even after safety measures taken following the worst atomic accident in 25 years, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.

Almost two-thirds of the nation’s 54 reactors are closed after a March earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns at three reactors at a plant in northern Japan operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. The government said yesterday restarts will be delayed for more tests even though measures taken since the crisis mean the plants meet legal standards to operate.

The so-called stress tests will enable regulators to more accurately assess how plants will respond to an earthquake or natural disaster, Yoshinori Moriyama, deputy director-general for nuclear accident measures at Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, told reporters today. The regulator said it also regards the plants as already safe to run.

“It doesn’t mean that there is no risk at all,” Moriyama said at a press conference in Tokyo. “You would not be able to deny the possibility of a serious accident occurring such as damage to a reactor core.”

Kyushu Electric Power Co. was pushing to restart two idled reactors at its Genkai plant in southwest Japan before the new tests were announced. The Genkai reactors can’t come back online without clarity in policy, the governor of the prefecture where the plant is located said today.

Decision Reversed

The tests were announced almost three weeks after Trade Minister Banri Kaieda declared the Genkai reactors safe to operate. Prime Minister Naoto Kan said yesterday new nuclear power plant safety guidelines are needed, and that Kaieda didn’t consult Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission before announcing that the country’s plants are safe.

From the regulator’s perspective, nuclear plants are safe to operate if they comply with emergency safety requirements introduced following the crisis at Fukushima, including keeping backup electricity-generating vehicles on site, Moriyama said.

‘All countries, including Japan and the International Atomic Energy Agency have certain standards based on which a plant is judged safe or not,’’ he said. “It is considered that if those standards are met, a plant would be regarded as safe.”

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