Japanese “Stress Tests” put more pressure on local municipalities than nuclear reactors

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The Fukushima disaster has brought about no major shifts in Japan’s energy policy, or the absolute safety of its nuclear program.  In fact the Japanese government has repeatedly weakened its stance on nuclear safety.

Recently the Japanese government has abandoned the April 1st schedule for setting up a new nuclear regulatory agency, after failing to agree during deliberations on a nuclear safety reform bill.

The continuing problems in stabilizing the Fukushima disaster have hardened attitudes of most in Japan against nuclear power.  As of June 2011, “more than 80 percent of Japanese now say they are anti-nuclear and distrust government information on radiation”.

Following the Fukushima disaster, Prime Minister Kan began moving Japan away from its dependence on nuclear power, and became a very vocal opponent to the nuclear industry. Until being removed from office, Kan had worked to avoid a possible future repeat of the Fukushima disaster.

Prime Minister Noda, upon replacing former Prime Minister Kan, has allowed new legislation that extended the operating life of Japanese reactors over 40 years, and this month the island nation also resubmitted proposals to extend the research and development of Uranium enrichment and the production and reprocessing of MOX fuel.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has stated that he would mobilize the “entire government” to persuade local leaders to accept the restart of the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant.

Japanese government officials fear that any delay in the restart of the Oi plant could lead to further delays at other plants that are next in line in the safety confirmation process, which could lead to the shutdown of all of Japan’s commercial nuclear reactors in the near future.

The fate of the restart of 53 of Japans 54 nuclear reactors rests in the ability of the government to control the hearts and minds of its people, as Japanese officials have already stated that the reactors do not need to be shut-down for the second phase of the inspections.

The government merely hopes the stress tests will help persuade a wary public that it is safe to restart some of the reactors, but efforts to regain public support for restarting the reactors has made little headway.

The stress tests are seen as insufficient,  in part as they only simulate one natural disaster at a time and do not take into account the possibility of the sort of equipment failure and human error seen at Fukushima.

The stress tests are mere computer simulations that evaluate a nuclear reactor’s resilience to severe events, such as earthquakes and tsunamis.  Local governments hosting nuclear plants, however, have said the stress tests were not sufficient to allow them to give their approval, with some requesting that findings from the Fukushima disaster be considered in drafting new safety standards as well, and some experts, have questioned the validity of the stress tests, charging the IAEA’s visit was just for show.

“Stress tests and safety standards are two different things. The only thing that has happened is that a single investigation has approved a set of theoretical numbers based on a theoretical scenario. The commission said nothing about the safety of the plant itself,” Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said on Twitter.

Shiga Governor Yukiko Kada commented on March 23: “What lessons about safety have been learned from the Fukushima nuclear accident? I believe it is still too early (to confirm the safety of the Oi plant).”

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