- The Japanese cabinet has endorsed a government policy panel’s strategy to gradually reduce nuclear as part of the country’s energy mix, while dropping a proposal to end the use of nuclear energy “in the 2030s.” Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said days after the strategy was unveiled that “flexibility” in implementing the plan was important in the face of “a variety of uncertainties” and that review and discussion will continue. The strategy—without a hard timeline for a complete nuclear phase-out—calls for idled reactors to restart only after approvals from the new Nuclear Regulation Authority and for an operating lifetime of 40 years, instead of 50 to 60 years. Reprocessing and recycling of used nuclear fuel will continue.
- Japan’s new Nuclear Regulation Authority opened for business last week, replacing the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. In a move designed to remove potential conflicts of interest between regulation and promotion of nuclear energy, the new agency will operate under the environment ministry. NISA was under the trade and industry ministry. The NRA will be responsible for nuclear safety, security, safeguards, radiation monitoring and regulation of radioisotopes. It will have an independent staff of 500 and an annual budget of about $600 million. Also under the environment ministry is a new Nuclear Safety Investigation Committee, which will review the effectiveness of the NRA and investigate nuclear accidents. Prime Minister Noda last week appointed the five-member commission that will head the NRA.
- Shunichi Tanaka, commission chairman of Japan’s new Nuclear Regulation Authority, told a press conference that no reactors will be restarted until at least next spring, when the agency is expected to finish drawing up new regulatory standards and using them to assess reactor stress test results. Tanaka said he would give top priority to revising seismic safety guidelines and emergency preparedness measures such as evacuation plans. He said his mission is to regain public trust in nuclear energy facilities.
- The International Atomic Energy Agency held its 56th general conference last week in Vienna, where international nuclear safety experts discussed strengthening the agency’s programs in nuclear safety, security, technical cooperation and other areas. NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane told the International Nuclear Safety Group Forum that one of the key lessons from the Fukushima accident is the importance of safety culture. She also emphasized the need for strong inspection and enforcement programs with transparent processes and objective criteria.
- An editorial in The Daily Yomiuri applauds the Japanese government’s decision not to fully endorse a nuclear phase-out strategy after hearing from top business organizations of the effect on the Japanese economy a zero nuclear option plan would have.
- The Yomiuri Shimbun reports on the Japanese government’s decision to decommission three older reactors—Tsuruga 1 and Mihama 1 and 2—while allowing the construction of two reactors—Ohma and Shimane 3—to resume. The Tsuruga and Mihama facilities entered into service in the early 1970s.