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Niigata governor: State must stop lying about nuclear safety standards – AJW by The Asahi Shimbun

The governor of Niigata Prefecture said the central government must stop spreading the lie that its new safety requirements for nuclear power plants are “the world’s strictest standards.”

Hirohiko Izumida said the government’s new setup for nuclear power facilities is filled with holes, fails to address unexpected developments and puts the onus on local governments to protect residents in the event of a nuclear accident.

“Although (the new requirements) do not measure up to international standards, (the central government) is not working to change the current situation,” Izumida said in a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun. “(The state) is lying by insisting that it has done what it has not done.”

Niigata Prefecture is home to seven idled reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant. Tokyo Electric Power Co. is seeking approval to restart reactors there.

TEPCO is also the operator of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which suffered a triple meltdown after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami knocked out power at the site.

In light of the nuclear accident, the Abe administration last year introduced tougher safety standards for nuclear power facilities. The new requirements are intended to strengthen measures to prevent serious accidents from natural and other disasters. For example, utilities are now required to have more than one power source at their nuclear facilities.

Currently, the nation’s 48 reactors are all offline.

Utilities have submitted applications to the Nuclear Regulation Authority to restart 17 reactors under the new safety standards. The screening for Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture could be completed before this summer.

However, Izumida said those reactors cannot be considered “safe” even if the NRA concludes that they meet the new standards.

“The standards assume that nuclear accidents are inevitable, and meeting the standards alone would not assure the safety of residents,” he said.

The Niigata governor said local governments, therefore, must prepare to protect their citizens in the case of emergencies, including devising effective evacuation plans on their own.

“If local governments fail to properly address an emergency situation, they will not be able to secure the safety of residents,” Izumida said.

However, he said current laws and regulations make it difficult for local authorities to compile viable plans.

In talks with former U.S. nuclear regulatory chief Gregory Jaczko last month, the Niigata governor said local authorities cannot develop effective evacuation plans unless the central government reviews its entire framework related to disaster management.

Izumida also told The Asahi Shimbun that it will be particularly difficult for local governments to respond to simultaneous multiple disasters.

He said residents using roads to flee from a nuclear disaster following an earthquake and tsunami could end up stuck due to damage or congestion and be exposed to radiation for a longer period.

As a solution, Izumida proposed building nuclear shelters in citizens’ homes.

The governor also criticized the central government’s stance toward nuclear facility management, arguing that the Abe administration has not taken “human factors” into consideration.

“(The state) believes that just examining the performance of equipment is sufficient to confirm safety,” Izumida said. “It does not consider what to do when something unexpected happens.”

The governor said many unknowns remain, including who will work at a highly contaminated nuclear plant site following a serious accident.

He also questioned the current system that allows plant operators to decide whether to cool reactors with seawater, which will ruin the reactors and cause heavy financial damage.

(This article was written by Emiko Inagaki and Atsushi Nagata.)



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