40% of nuclear equipment exported from Japan failed to undergo safety inspections

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The Mainichi Shimbun report that nearly half of Japanese nuclear power plant equipment exported over the last ten years failed to undergo safety inspections through the national government.  Instead of requiring all equipment to be subject to the government safety inspections, the Japanese government only conducted the safety inspection if the manufacturer received a loan from the government-affiliated Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) or applied for insurance from Nippon Export and Investment Service.

In the last decade, Japan exported roughly 124.8 billion yen worth of nuclear equipment to 23 countries and territories, only 73.7 billion yen worth of equipment sold to China, the United States, France, Belgium, and Finland received government safety inspections.  Approximately 51.1 billion yen worth of equipment failed to receive such inspections.  The unchecked equipment included key safety-related components such as, reactor pressure vessels, reactor pressure vessel lids, and control rod driving systems.  Three major manufacturers, Hitachi, Ltd., Toshiba Corporation, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. are among those who exported nuclear equipment without safety inspections.

Despite the on-going Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been promoting nuclear exports from Japan and loudly reassuring the international community that Japanese nuclear technology is the world’s safest, yet another outspoken claim from the boisterous Abe that would later be put under intense scrutiny.

“It came as a surprise to me that many exported nuclear plant-related devices failed to undergo safety inspections,” said Keio University professor Masaru Kaneko. “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claimed in a speech overseas that Japan can provide the world’s safest atomic power technology, but how can Japan guarantee the safety of nuclear plant equipment Japanese firms export without a proper system to examine it?”

Source: The Mainichi Shimbun

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  1. The term “safety inspection” doesn’t mean anything to me. I expect nuclear equipment to be delivered with records certifying that all quality assurance requirements have been satisfied. (The material and the design meet required specifications, and radiography and proof test requirements have been satisfied.) What does safety inspection of a nuclear plant component entail?

  2. Perhaps the equipment would not have passed inspection due to the fact that it would be thoroughly checked and found to be contaminated with radioactivity released at Fukushima Daiichi?

    1. I don’t think so. Even if a manufacturing plant were located in the fallout area (a swath running NW from the Fukushima site), it doesn’t seem likely that metal components could be contaminated. If a component were somehow contaminated, the radioactivity would be detected at the destination plant. (Maybe you should check your car if it has parts that were made in Japan since the earthquake.)

      Safety is an important issue for products like automobiles or home appliances, but those considerations don’t apply in the same way to nuclear plant components like steam generators, pumps, or electric generation equipment. For example, standards for pressure retention are imposed through industrial design codes which are addressed in regulatory standards and included in the purchase contract. Compliance must be shown in the component design documentation, and an objective is safe pressure containment, but this does not constitute a safety check.

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