Toughen safety controls. Nuclear regulatory agencies must be integrated
The Asahi Shimbun, October 5, 2002
It turns out that lying on safety inspections at the nation's nuclear
power plants, first uncovered at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), encompasses
other electric utilities as well. To regain public trust in the safety
of nuclear power generation, the government needs drastic reforms and
more stringent administration of the industry.
Following reports that utilities hid damage they considered not immediate
safety risks, new disclosures showed TEPCO, Tohoku Electric Power Co.
and Chubu Electric Power Co. failed to report to regulators damage in
pipes in reactor cooling systems. TEPCO is also suspected of falsifying
data on the pressure integrity of containment vessels, which are supposed
to shield radiation.
Many people must have been stunned by the degree of duplicity in the
nation's nuclear power industry and disappointed at the government's
slack administration of safety standards. One problem is the weakness
of the regulatory agencies, as seen in their inability to detect the
subterfuge. Another is the prospect of collusion among regulators and
utilities, as suggested by the fact government officials told TEPCO
who blew the whistle on their falsehoods.
The Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, which reports
to the minister of economy, trade and industry, formed a subcommittee
to address this problem. It urged legal standards for self-imposed safety
inspections to require the utilities to keep records on inspections
and creation of standards to assess the extent of damage at nuclear
But these small changes are inadequate to restore trust in regulation
of the nuclear power industry.
Overall regulation of nuclear power generation is the responsibility
of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency of the Ministry of Economy,
Trade and Industry. The Nuclear Safety Commission in the Cabinet Office
oversees the steps taken by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.
Thus, nuclear power generation is regulated in two tiers, a practice
unparalleled anywhere else.
We propose changing this structure to separate the Nuclear and Industrial
Safety Agency from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in line
with a suggestion from the liaison organization of municipal governments
in communities near nuclear power plants. After the agency is spun off
from the ministry, it should come under direct control of the Nuclear
The Nuclear Safety Commission has five members, each one a specialist
in nuclear power generation or the effects of radioactivity. The commission
has several specialized subcommittees and screening panels. Although
it is an advisory body on control at the highest level of government,
the commission's primary role is to review the documentation of measures
taken by government agencies. The commission finds it difficult to make
up for regulatory weaknesses, and much of its effort is often wasted.
The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency showed it is not capable when
it failed to discover who did what in the TEPCO coverups.
An overlapping inspection system may be fine if government agencies
have plenty of people. But the nuclear energy division of the Nuclear
and Industrial Safety Agency has about 260 people, including inspectors
assigned to nuclear power plants, and the Nuclear Safety Commission
has only about 100. In comparison with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
in the United States, which has a staff of about 3,000 members, Japan's
regulatory agencies are undeniably short-staffed.
Regulatory agencies must be integrated for more stringent government
regulation. This integration should be considered not only for the Nuclear
and Industrial Safety Agency and the Nuclear Safety Commission but also
for part of the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute, which studies
safety of nuclear energy, and the National Institute of Radiological
Sciences, which studies uses and effects of radioactivity. More nuclear
power generation specialists must be recruited.
In short, Japan needs something like the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission,
supported by capable specialists and researchers. Government agencies
to promote nuclear energy and regulate the suppliers should be distinct,
to prevent collusion. Such drastic measures are inevitable considering
the trust destroyed by the instances of false reporting.