The Nuclear Regulation Authority on Wednesday officially decided on Japan’s new safety requirements for reactors aimed at preventing recurrences of disasters like the one at the Fukushima Daiichi complex in 2011.
The new regulations are expected to take effect on July 8, paving the way for nuclear power plant operators to apply for the NRA’s safety assessment as a step toward resuming the operation of their idled reactors.
While calling the regulations a “culmination” of discussions that have taken place since October last year, NRA commissioners acknowledged that the rules’ application is a more important job for them and vowed to make efforts to further improve them.
Approximately 60,000 people rallied Sunday near the Diet building in Tokyo to protest Japan’s plan to restart nuclear power plants, rally organizers said.
The Metropolitan Police Department put the number of protesters at closer to 20,000 to 30,000, Kyodo News reported. The rally began in Shiba Park, which was attended by Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe, RIA Novosti reported. The protesters then marched on the Diet building.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority on Wednesday revised its disaster mitigation guidelines compiled in light of the Fukushima crisis by adding criteria for evacuation and other protective actions against radiation exposure.
According to the revised guidelines, people living within a 5-km radius of a nuclear power plant will be given iodine tablets, which help prevent thyroid cancer, ahead of time so they can promptly take the pills in the event of a fallout crisis.
People living outside the 5-km zone, meanwhile, will be ordered to evacuate if a radiation dose of 500 microsieverts per hour is detected, a tougher criteria than the International Atomic Energy Agency’s benchmark of 1,000 microsieverts.
Japan has offered to help Saudi Arabia build nuclear power stations to free up more oil for exports, Kyodo news agency reported on Sunday, but a visiting Japanese minister said he was not seeking a supply increase now.
Trade Minister Toshimitsu Motegi’s visit at the weekend was aimed at securing extra oil from the world’s biggest exporter in case of instability in world supply, Japanese officials had said.
Japan’s reliance on oil imports has risen after its own shift from nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster in 2011, but any deal to give Japan priority access to Saudi crude in the event of supply shortages would worry other oil importers.
“It was not that we have asked for any specific request for increase of production or supply. It was just the confirmation of the relationship we have,” Motegi told journalists when asked whether he had sought assurances Japan could get more oil in a crisis.
Motegi had offered help building nuclear plants to free more crude for export and to meet rising Saudi demand for electricity, Kyodo news agency said. A Saudi official told Motegi he was hopeful Japanese technology could be used.
Reports have surfaced that the national government has decided to advocate the renovation of hospitals, schools and other facilities located within a 5-kilometer radius of nuclear power plants across the country. The primary aim is to provide a viable option for the sick and elderly to remain in the facilities in case of a nuclear meltdown, as what happened during the March 11, 2011 Fukushima disaster.
Some 12 billion yen is said to be allocated for this very purpose during a supplemental budget for fiscal year 2012. This amount will also cover costs for the supply of dosimeters to public facilities. The structures will be refitted with airtight doors and windows to prevent radioactive materials expelled by a damaged nuclear power plant from entering the buildings. On the other hand, ventilation filters will placed to remove said materials.
The disaster management guidelines of the Nuclear Regulation Authority mandates people in the 5-kilometer radius of a nuclear plant to immediately evacuate in case of a disaster. In 2011, after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake creating the tsunami that caused the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown, some bedridden patients of the hospital near the plant died due to the stress of the evacuation. This incident sparked the municipalities to call on the national government for assistance on the matter.
The majority of towns and cities in Japan hosting nuclear plants have said they would agree to the reactors being restarted, as long as the government guarantees their safety, a survey has found.
Despite the cloud of controversy over Fukushima, 54 per cent of the 135 mayors in communities located near Japan’s 50 nuclear plants said they would accept reactor restarts, according to the poll for the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper.
Only 18 per cent were against the restarts while 28 per cent chose not to clarify their position and two did not give valid answers.
The results reflect the harsh economic reality in many of the rural communities which host nuclear plants, which are often major employers, the paper said.
Iodine has been used in the treatment of thyroid diseases, chronic bronchitis and other diseases. But in Japan, its use as protection from radiation exposure has still not been approved and this will cause further delay in its distribution to residents near nuclear plants.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority has included the distribution of iodine in its preventative measures, but since they have not been able to obtain yet the approval from the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law, the local governments still cannot distribute the drug or even include it in their regional disaster management plans that are due for submission by March 2013. This will also add to the delay in restarting of the idle nuclear plants, since one condition for the approval of the restarting is that there is more than adequate protection for residents living in the area.
The protective effects of potassium iodide has been recognized internationally, as seen after the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the former Soviet Union. But in Japan, it has been very rarely used before the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in 2011. No pharmaceutical company has filed for approval of the drug for nuclear radiation protection. As such, victims cannot claim compensation from the state if they experience side effects from the drugs.
The NRA will hold consultations with the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry officials to obtain additional legal approval to be able to provide the drug in advance to residents within a five-mile radius of a nuclear plant, which may be expanded later on.
Japan’s new government said on Friday it hoped to stick to a three year deadline to decide whether to restart all nuclear reactors after safety checks, despite the country’s newly formed nuclear regulator saying the deadline was impossible to meet.
Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, who is also responsible for energy policy, said reactors would be restarted as units received the all-clear from the atomic regulator.
“We will rely on the NRA (Nuclear Regulation Authority) to judge safety from an expert point of view and will not restart ones as long as safety is not confirmed,” Motegi told a news conference.
NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said in an interview in the Asahi newspaper on Friday that completing safety checks within the three-year timeframe set by new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be impossible to meet.
All but two of Japan’s 50 reactors remain switched off after an earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns and explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi station in northeastern Japan in March 2011.
Atomic energy supplied about 30 percent of Japan’s needs before Fukushima, but since the disaster support for nuclear power has plummeted.
A team of Japanese geologists says a seismic fault running underneath a nuclear plant in western Japan is likely to be active, which could force the scrapping of one of its two reactors.
The five-member panel commissioned by the Nuclear Regulation Authority announced Monday that the structure underneath the Tsuruga plant showed signs of seismic movement around 100,000 years ago, recent enough to still be active.
Leaders for Japan’s biggest political parties are kicking off the campaign for parliamentary elections to be held in less than two weeks with visits to nuclear crisis-hit Fukushima prefecture.
Nuclear energy and the economy are key issues in the Dec. 16 election, which is widely expected to send Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s unpopular Democratic Party of Japan to defeat after three years in power.
The opposition Liberal Democratic Party is leading in the polls, but is unlikely to win a majority of seats in the lower house of parliament.
The most likely outcome of the election is a coalition government whose makeup is far from clear.
Polls show more than 40 percent of voters don’t know which party they’ll support in the election.