TOKYOà‚–Japan’s Natural Resources and Energy Agency recently indicated that it will step up safety checks at all nuclear plants. Previously, the operators of the plants conducted in-house safety checks, leaving speculation into the quality of those checks.
The new government run inspections are the result of a revised law, which came into force on July 1, that mandates the more formal inspections.
The NREA will now inspect Japan’s 52 reactors at 17 nuclear plants four times a year. The agency will appoint an inspector to each reactor. Each inspection will last three weeks, with the inspectors studying the operators to ensure they are obeying safety standards, including their handling of nuclear waste.
The revised approach to inspections came after a critical reaction at a uranium processing plant in Tokaimura killed two plant workers and exposed hundreds to radiation. This accident, which occurred last September at the JCO Co. Ltd. facility, was the worst ever at a Japanese nuclear plant and the world’s second most serious since Chernobyl. JCO workers used steel buckets to pour uranium into a precipitation tank and added too much. That set off a critical reaction.
This accident was just the beginning of a string of accidents that occurred at nuclear facilities in Japan. A suspected interior radioactive leak at a Tokyo Electric Power Co. Inc. nuclear reactor north of Tokyo led to shutting down that reactor. This was the third closure in the same area since an earthquake struck in July.
Because of growing nuclear safety concerns in the public sector, the Japanese government has put on hold plans to build 16 to 20 new nuclear power plants by 2010.