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EDITORIAL | Kishida’s Lead Urgently Needed to Restart Japan’s Nuclear Power Plants

The global energy crisis will lead to blackouts in Japan unless leadership steps in to ensure a safe, stable domestic power supply.

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Ten years have passed since the Tomari Nuclear Power Station of Hokkaido Electric Power Company. was stopped for inspections In November 2012. (photographed in May 2022 by Naoki Ohtake)

The Special Committee on Nuclear Regulations of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, chaired by Junji Suzuki, has compiled a report containing proposals for more efficient safety inspections of Japan’s nuclear power facilities. The report was presented to Environment Minister Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in mid-May.

The Japan Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has been taking such a long time to conduct its safety inspections that only 10 of the nuclear power plants shut down following the 2011 Fukushima disaster have been restarted. Consequently, the Special Committee on Nuclear Regulations called for the use of enhanced predictive analysis for safety inspections, for example by making use of data from inspections of nuclear power plants that have already passed inspection. 

As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, global energy prices have skyrocketed. That is certainly true in Japan, where electricity and gas costs continue to rise. Amidst these developments, reevaluations of nuclear energy are occurring worldwide because the energy source provides a stable supply of electrical power and facilitates decarbonization. 

Prime Minister Kishida has also expressed his intention to pursue improving the efficiency of nuclear power facility inspections. Hopefully, the Prime Minister will be proactive in dealing with this problem and take the lead in getting the NRA to implement the proposals contained in the report. It is important to get the dormant nuclear power plants up and running again. 

A street monitor in Tokyo’s city center announces the power supply shortage and blackout warning including all of Tokyo, on the evening of March 22, 2022.

Lengthy Delays

The standard administrative review process for safety inspections of nuclear power facilities by the NRA has been set at two years. This is in line with the goals of maintaining fairness and transparency in government administration called for in the Administrative Procedures Law. 

As things now stand, however, the agency has been taking far longer to complete earthquake fault assessments and other inspection procedures. In fact, we have no way of estimating when it might finish these inspections. Take for example the case of Hokkaido Electric Power Co.’s Tomari Nuclear Power Plant, where inspections have been ongoing for nine years. 

The LDP’s special committee offers 10 proposals in its report on the promotion of increased efficiency in inspections for the restart of nuclear facilities. 

Chairperson Suzuki has pointed out: “Although it has already been 10 years since it was launched, the Nuclear Regulatory Authority has only gotten 10 nuclear power plants restarted. We have a strong sense of crisis that the Authority’s inspections have stalled.” 

Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant is idle, despite having a good safety review.

Recommendations to Help

The report urges the NRA to actively incorporate new information about nuclear power regulations in other countries.

It also calls for strengthening communication between the NRA and the local governments of areas where the nuclear power facilities are located, as well as the electric power companies that operate them. For example, it says that the NRA should thoroughly brief these concerned parties on the status of inspections. 

The NRA is an organization that operates independently from other Japanese government agencies. It is established to conduct safety inspections following the 2011 accident at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. Fukushima Daiichi reactor. 

Although ensuring the safety of nuclear power facilities is essential, that does not justify a self-righteous attitude on the part of the NRA. It is only natural that the efficiency and transparency of any administrative agency be questioned.

Remember that just this March Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Tohoku Electric Power Co. for the first time issued electrical power outage warnings for the regions they serve. These areas were teetering on the brink of large-scale blackouts.  

Getting Japan’s nuclear power plants up and running again as soon as possible will provide a stable supply of electrical power and help to bring down the cost of electricity. Prime Minister Kishida needs to exercise strong leadership regarding this issue. 

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(Read the editorial in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun