Chuck Casto: Balance of Nuclear Power Policy in Post-Fukushima Japan

Balance of Nuclear Power Policy in Post-Fukushima Japan

Chuck Casto Licensed Nuclear Power Station Operator. Was NRC regulator responsible for 23 nuclear power stations. Leader of the US Integrated Government and NRC efforts in Japan during the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011

Summary written by Gerhard Fasol

Five crisis – all five crisis must be solved

The Fukushima nuclear disaster is not a triple crisis, as sometimes stated, but five crisis:

  • earthquake
  • Tsunami
  • nuclear plants, including clean-up
  • social impacts
  • policy

All five crisis must be addressed, and a system solution must be found and implemented.

The Fukushima Dai Ichi nuclear disaster was caused by a system failure both of the Government and the Utility (Tokyo Electric Power, TEPCO)

The nuclear disaster was caused by a long list of failures and mistakes, not by one single factor:

  • the plant was constructed at the wrong place
  • the well known Tsunami history was ignored, land was lowered to near sea level to save money for pumping water, exposing the nuclear plant to Tsunamis
  • Lessons from Chernobyl were not learnt, incorrect venting procedures were used
  • Mistakes in emergency planning and crisis leadership: there was not enough planning for the case of accidents
  • Lessons from the US 9/11 terror attack were ignored, and US advice was rejected: no backup electricity was provided
  • A misalignment of values
  • Policy imbalance between power and responsibility

Instead of the prevalent “safety myth”, we must start from the position that accidents can happen.

The balance of power and responsibility

Which group has the legal power and who has the legal responsibility?

Misalignment of values held by (1) nuclear utilities, (2) the public and (3) the Government leads to distrust, and as a result doubt, uncertainty, fear, anxiety, insults, anger, and loss of trust in the system.

The values need to be realigned to create a system to protect public health and the environment.

We must have a clear legal basis for roles and responsibilities.
The utilities (electric power companies) need to be ultimately responsibly.
There is a public and government reluctance to give the utilities clear and sole responsibility.

Lessons from the Three Mile Island Accident

Before the Three Mile Island Accident we had an imbalance between:

  • the power of the utility (the nuclear plant operator)
  • the responsibility of state and federal authorities
  • the public

This imbalance was corrected and rebalanced after the Three Mile Island accident:

  • the law was changed regarding risk: the law demands now a “reasonable assurance”
  • the regulator was strengthened
  • an industry excellence organization was formed

Similarly in Japan we need to rebalance the system of power, responsibility and accountability of all players:

The pyramid of power needs to be with the Government and the Diet on top:

  • Government and the Diet
  • Government agencies and ministries
  • Extra-government organizations
  • Prefectures and Local governments
  • Nuclear utilities, nuclear plant operators
  • Public and non-governmental organizations

This power pyramid needs to be balanced with responsibility and accountability of:

  • Nuclear utilities, nuclear plant operators
  • Government agencies and ministries
  • Government and the Diet
  • Extra-government organizations
  • Prefectures and nuclear utilities
  • Public and non-governmental organizations

Japan’s system failure needs a Japanese solution, not a US or EU solution

…and the cleanup of the Fukushima disaster zone is absolutely essential for a restart of nuclear power in Japan.

  • Nuclear crisis: the Fukushima disaster area must be restored for new land use, to prove that future accidents will be cleaned up, and to give hope to residents
  • Social crisis: public health communication is necessary
  • Policy crisis: Japan’s Diet (Parliament) needs to hold a national dialogue on nuclear power and risk, who should have the power, who should have the responsibility and what level risk is acceptable

Balanced regulatory oversight needs to be established, and the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) needs proper oversight.

Chuck Casto: Balance of Nuclear Power Policy in Post-Fukushima Japan
Chuck Casto: Balance of Nuclear Power Policy in Post-Fukushima Japan
Chuck Casto: Balance of Nuclear Power Policy in Post-Fukushima Japan
Chuck Casto: Balance of Nuclear Power Policy in Post-Fukushima Japan
Chuck Casto: Balance of Nuclear Power Policy in Post-Fukushima Japan
Chuck Casto: Balance of Nuclear Power Policy in Post-Fukushima Japan
Chuck Casto: Balance of Nuclear Power Policy in Post-Fukushima Japan
Chuck Casto: Balance of Nuclear Power Policy in Post-Fukushima Japan
Chuck Casto: Balance of Nuclear Power Policy in Post-Fukushima Japan
Chuck Casto: Balance of Nuclear Power Policy in Post-Fukushima Japan
Chuck Casto: Balance of Nuclear Power Policy in Post-Fukushima Japan
Chuck Casto: Balance of Nuclear Power Policy in Post-Fukushima Japan
Chuck Casto: Balance of Nuclear Power Policy in Post-Fukushima Japan
Chuck Casto: Balance of Nuclear Power Policy in Post-Fukushima Japan

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  • Brian Landberg

    I strongly agree about the need to rebalance the authority and responsibility of operator and government, as was done after TMI. I am curious if Mr. Casto spoke about how the newly organized Japanese nuclear regulatory authority is doing after Fukushima?

    By the way, what did he mean by the following statement?
    “Lessons from the US 9/11 terror attack were ignored, and US advice was rejected: no backup electricity was provided”

    • Hi Brian, Dr Casto did not go into the details of the new Nuclear Regulatory Authority, he said however, that more more active participation by Japan’s Parliament, representing the people of Japan is necessary, and that the Regulator needs to be closely supervised by the Parliament.

      Regarding the 9/11 attacks, at that time the US Government required backup electricity generation for the cooling systems of nuclear power stations in the USA, and recommended this requirement also to all friendly countries, like France, Germany, UK, Japan etc. All countries followed the US advice, except for Japan, which declined to follow this US advice to install backup electricity supplies.

      • Brian Landberg

        Thank you for clarification Gerhard. I think you are aware that the Japanese and American nuclear industries continuously and vigorously have exchanged information, data, and recommendations through INPO and WANO organizations as well as other channels. The Fukushima nuclear power plant did in fact have back-up power systems (indeed, all of the nuclear power stations are required to have them). However as I understand it, there were a number of critical violations in terms of re-locating the backup diesel generators and control panels below the required height and employing multiple models of the same types of generators for easier maintenance rather than for systems diversity and reliability. The reactor buildings themselves were also sited too low. Perhaps the proximity of Fukushima 2 to Fukushima 1 (approx 11km away) was also being counted as a back-up system to prevent a station power outage (though this plan also proved to be fatally flawed). These problems were in addition to what Mr. Casto mentioned about the failure to properly risk assess for higher tsunami, despite geological indications of past flood levels and external recommendations. The combination of these factors, as well as a lack of emergency training and emergency response equipment preparedness in case of potential disasters, is what resulted in the disaster being (correctly) characterized as “jin-sai”, i.e. human-error induced disaster.

        I do think it is significant and notable that the Onagawa nuclear power station was even closer to the earthquake epicenter and was also hit by a *bigger* tsunami than Fukushima. Yet Onagawa plant was saved thanks to better site design, construction and also safety culture, including emergency planning. Read more about it here. http://thebulletin.org/onagawa-japanese-nuclear-power-plant-didn%E2%80%99t-melt-down-311