Japan’s nuclear regulator disregards post-Fukushima law to approve old reactors

Japan’s nuclear regulator disregards post-Fukushima law to approve old reactors

Tokyo, 20 June 2016 _ Today, Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) has made its biggest regulatory failure to date by disregarding the post-Fukushima law on aging reactors in order to allow Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) to meet a July 7th approval deadline for their Takahama 1 & 2 reactors.

These reactors cannot meet the post-disaster seismic safety standards for their primary containment loop — specifically for the steam generators — within their design basis according to the utility’s own documents submitted to the NRA. It is arguing that it can change the calculations in order to meet the standards.

“By KEPCO’s own admission, its Takahama 1 & 2 reactors fail to meet post-Fukushima seismic safety standards for critical reactor components. KEPCO is trying to get around this reality by pencil sharpening and paper exercise, which the regulator itself said t cannot be done without physical tests. KEPCO cannot conduct those tests by the July 7th deadline, nor can they say whether those tests will confirm their hypothesis when they finally do them years from now. Instead of enforcing the law, which requires the permanent shutdown of these reactors if they can’t meet the deadline, the NRA has been aiding and abetting the utility in getting around it. This goes far beyond regulatory failure. It is brazen malfeasance in order to help KEPCO, at the expense of public safety,” said Kendra Ulrich, Senior Global Energy Campaigner of Greenpeace Japan.

This year the Takahama 1&2 reactors will be 42 and 41 years old, respectively. The approval will allow the operation of the reactors for an additional 20 years. The reactors will be the first 40 years plus to receive initial approval from the NRA under the post-Fukushima guidelines, though there are still further steps that will need to be completed.

Globally, the mean age for reactor shutdown is 24.7 years. KEPCO has admitted that they will not be able to restart the two Takahama reactors before 2019. The NRA has agreed with the utility that it would assess the seismic resistance of key components only during pre-operational inspection – at least three years after approving the reactors as passing their guidelines.

Last week the former NRA commissioner Kunihiko Shimazaki,also a seismologist, called on the agency to review how it assessed seismic risks(1) to nuclear plants, including those at Takahama.(2) He warned that the present method is “very dangerous” as it underestimates so called design basis earthquakes when applied to vertical faults, most commonly found in western Japan.

“The NRA is going doing everything it can to ignore the earthquake risks to nuclear plants in Japan, from Fukushima in 2011 to the seismic events in Kyushu in April. Given the known seismic risks to reactors in Wakasa Bay, including the Takahama nuclear plant, the NRA is showing itself to be incapable and unwilling to protect the people of Japan,” said Ulrich.

The restart of the Takahama 1 & 2 reactors is being challenged by a citizens’ lawsuit filed on 14 April, which Greenpeace staff have joined as plaintiffs. The case argues that the NRA has failed in its responsibility to adequately assess the risks, particularly as they relate to degradation caused by aging, thus putting the public at potentially significant risk. It seeks to bar the restart of both reactors.(3)

KEPCO has been forced to shut down the Takahama 3&4 reactors following the injunction imposed by the Otsu District Court on 9 March 2016. The utility requested a stay of execution on the injunction so that they could resume operation of these reactors, which the court denied on 17 June 2016.


Kendra Ulrich, Greenpeace Japan, Senior Global Energy Campaigner,
email: kendra.ulrich@greenpeace.org, mob: +81(0) 90 6478 5408

Chisato Jono, Communications Officer, Greenpeace Japan,
email: chisato.jono@greenpeace.org, mob: +81 (0) 80-6558-4446