Japan Post-Fukushima Reactor Checks ‘Insufficient,’ Advisers Say

Japan’s safety review of nuclear reactors after the Fukushima disaster is based on faulty criteria and many people involved have conflicts of interest, two government advisers on the checks said.

“The whole process being undertaken is exactly the same as that used previous to the Fukushima Dai-Ichi accident, even though the accident showed all these guidelines and categories to be insufficient,” Hiromitsu Ino, Professor Emeritus at the University of Tokyo, said at a briefing in Tokyo today.

The checks began after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Dai-Ichi station and all but three of the country’s nuclear reactors are offline. The government is ignoring criticism of the process as it tries to convince a skeptical public the industry is safe and get reactors back on-line, Ino said.

Reports on stress tests on 14 reactors have been submitted to Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. None of the tests covers a scenario involving multiple natural disasters and they were carried out even though the causes of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi meltdowns and hydrogen explosions are still being investigated, said Masashi Goto, a former reactor designer who also serves on the committee.

“The tests are nothing but an optimistic desk simulation based on the assumption that everything will happen exactly as assumed,” Goto said, adding that they don’t include margins for human error, design flaws or combinations of both.

Aware of Criticism

NISA has no plans to change the way the reviews are being conducted, Tatsuya Taguchi, a NISA official in charge of nuclear safety regulatory standards, said by phone today. The concerns of Ino and Goto have been discussed, Taguchi said.

“We are doing the best we can to reflect reality,” Taguchi said.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., a maker of nuclear plant equipment, runs the disaster simulations for the utilities, which pass the results to NISA, Ino and Goto said. The reports are reviewed by the Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization, which employs former Mitsubishi Heavy staff, raising a potential conflict of interest, they said.

Some members of the advisory committee receive research funding from Mitsubishi Heavy and related companies, Ino and Goto said. Representatives of communities hosting reactors haven’t been included in the safety review, they said.

Vested Interests

“Individuals and organizations that have vested interests are reviewing themselves and under this regime a proper assessment cannot be made,” Ino said.

Hideo Ikuno, a spokesman for Mitsubishi Heavy, said he wasn’t in a position to comment.

Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano said Japan may have no nuclear plants operating this summer and the government is preparing measures to avoid power shortages, the Asahi newspaper reported today, citing his comments in an interview. The safety issue is more important than power supply concerns, Edano told the Asahi.

“If there was a real discussion then the stress tests would be a good forum” for assessing the risks and rewards of nuclear power, Ino said. “As it is, the stress tests are just being used to restart reactors.”

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