Tepco Nuclear Safety Reformer Says Industry Needs Peer Reviews

Japan’s nuclear utilities should consider peer safety reviews to raise standards and assuage public concern that the technology is unsafe following the 2011 Fukushima disaster, according to a safety adviser to Japan’s biggest utility.

An industry group is able to assess risks to nuclear plants better than a regulator, Dale Klein, former chief of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and now head of safety reform at Tokyo Electric Power Co., said in an interview.

“In a lot of respects, they are tougher than the NRC,” he said of peer reviews in the U.S. Industry group members have experience running plants, something most regulators don’t, Klein said.

The U.S. adopted the practice after the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident when the utilities saw that problems in safety at one plant could spell the end for the whole industry, Klein said. Japan should implement the same practices as the government and industry seek to convince a reticent public that the nation should return to nuclear energy, Klein said.

Klein has scheduled his safety committee’s next meeting at Tokyo Electric’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa station, the world’s largest nuclear plant. Tepco, which also operates the wrecked Fukushima plant, applied to switch Kashiwazaki back on.

A restart of the Tepco facility faces a number of hurdles, including local government opposition. The scrutiny means Tepco should take extra steps to reassure the public, Klein said.

Kyushu Electric Power Co. this month restarted a unit at its Sendai plant, the country’s first reactor in two years and the first under new regulations following the 2011 Fukushima Dai-Ichi meltdown. The Sendai restart will help Tepco improve safety at Kashiwazaki, Klein said.

“One would expect the first reactor restarts to be the most difficult,” he said. “After Sendai, both the regulator and the public will know what kind of questions to ask, what are the issues to look for.”