Fukushima is a “Gold Mine”
Lessons that we can learn
The Inquiry Commission of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) dispatched to Japan to investigate the accident in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant released its report on the 1st of June(2011).I wonder if I was the only one who felt uneasy about the contents of this report. Because, they have heaped praise on the Japanese Government as well as Tokyo Electric Power and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) for their handling of matters after the accident.
The objective of this inquiry is to share the lessons of Fukushima with the world, and the final report will be released towards the end of June. The facts and lessons discovered by the Inquiry Commission shown in the interim release begin by appreciating Japan on 3 counts.
The 1st point of appreciation is that information was provided to the Inquiry Commission in an “extremely open manner”. The handling at the scene of the accident was also exemplary, and it was greatly supported by highly professional logistical support arrangements. The measures taken by the government for sheltering the people have also been praised as being commendable and extremely well organized.
We can understand their appreciation of people working devotedly on the disaster site in extremely difficult circumstances. However, people are very distrustful of the Government, Tokyo Electric Power and NISA, and hence the disconnect between the feelings of the people at large and the great appreciation by IAEA is bewildering.
The difficult position of IAEA is clearly visible
Of course, the problem of strengthening safety has been cited in the 8 points which follow the above. In addition to pointing out that the process chart for recovery needs to be reviewed depending on the situation, the report also declares that the assessment of the tsunami was unduly optimistic. It orders the nuclear power plant designers and the electric power company to appropriately evaluate and take defensive measures against natural disasters, and periodically review the same based on the latest information. It also demands the completion of a plan for multiple safeguards against disasters, guarantee of independence of regulatory agencies, preparation to withstand combined disasters, expansion of facilities at the disaster site including communication equipment, etc., introduction of systems to reduce the risk of hydrogen detonation, and construction of a system for initial startup in the case of major accidents.
The difficult position of IAEA is obvious from the contents of the report which seem to be striving to achieve a balance between praise and criticism. The IAEA charter states that [The organization must promote the contribution of nuclear power towards peace, health preservation and prosperity throughout the world, and strive to enhance the same]. In other words, in its capacity as an international organization bearing the mission of driving nuclear power generation, it seems to be in a hurry to dispel the worldwide distrust of nuclear power plants as quickly as possible.
The Head of the Inquiry Commission, Mr. Mike Weightman is the Head of the atomic energy regulatory agency in the UK which is the Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR). Before coming to Japan, he had already published an interim report in the UK on the lessons of Fukushima. In this report, he points out that the possibility of the kind of gigantic earthquake and tsunami which struck the Fukushima nuclear power plant occurring in the UK is low, and that the nuclear reactors which are in operation in the UK are technologically different from the BWR (Boiling Water Reactors) in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. On this basis, he concludes that there is no reason to curtail nuclear power generation in the UK.
However, he also stresses that the search for improvements must never stop. He has proposed 26 items of improvement, including completion of preparedness against natural disasters such as floods, long term securing of independent sources of power supply to make provisions for external power losses, etc.
Nevertheless, there is no pressing need for the UK to make any major changes to its plans for continuing the establishment of nuclear power plants. When they received the interim report, both the Government and the electric power supply companies made it clear that they would go ahead with their plans for the establishment of nuclear power plants as before. Anti-nuclear groups raised their voices in protest against the contents of this report which seemed to give its seal of approval to promote nuclear power generation.
The interim report of the IAEA concludes by saying that they would strongly request the international atomic energy community to make best use of this unique opportunity provided by Fukushima to improve the safety of nuclear power plants. Certainly, Fukushima is a treasure house of lessons. They will undoubtedly be used to make improvements in safety in nuclear power plants.
However, Japan, which needs a fundamental review of its energy policy, would probably recommend caution in the international debate to make promotion of nuclear power generation a pre-requisite for progress. The converse would apply to debates arising from anti-atomic energy countries like Germany. Japan should judge the lessons to be learnt from Fukushima from a responsible and fair viewpoint.
From Nikkei Business 13th June 2011 Page 91