Saturday, June 16, 2012

Nuclear Policy Creeps Forward

This week, according to press reports, the legislation for a new, more independent 5-person nuclear safety regulatory board apparently moved forward.   The body will take on 800 staff from METI and the Science/Education Ministry, and those staff will in theory be prohibited from returning "home" -- or to any other governmental entity that has as one of its functions the promotion of nuclear power.

Apparently part of the compromise to get the LDP to join in the government's proposal is that the new legislation offers some ability to revisit a mandatory 40-year limit on operation of reactors.  The LDP had wanted this provision eliminated entirely, but a compromise instead allows the new regulatory board to revisit  whether such a policy is necessary.  So for the time being at least, this issue remains open.  (Maybe the utilities can avoid taking immediate huge write-offs on their 40+ year-old  nuclear plants -- to the extent not already fully depreciated -- since in theory these plants may yet generate electricity?)

Friday morning June 15's Nikkei Shimbun notes that the legislation will include provisions that delegate to the regulatory board certain details of response to a nuclear accident, removing these items from the political judgment of the Prime Minister.  This would include a decision on whether to use seawater to attempt to cool a reactor that had lost power -- the decision that Prime Minister Kan is said to have delayed on March 12, 2011 while asking whether the salt in seawater might risk reactor recriticality.  (Kan apparently knew just enough nuclear physics to be dangerous ... and TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi plant manager ignored the instruction and went ahead without yet further delay at this point.  But the anecdote lives on.)  I hope we never need to learn whether the new approach actually works better than the old.

A formal announcement regarding the government's favorable decision to restart Omi Reactors #3 and #4 this summer, is forthcoming any day.

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