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Editorial: Prioritize evacuation plans before restarting nuclear reactors via Mainichi

Tohoku Electric Power Co. applied with the government’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) for safety inspections of its No. 2 reactor at the Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant in Miyagi Prefecture at the end of last year, a move prerequisite for restarting the reactor.

This is the first application for safety inspections on a nuclear power station in an area hit by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. With the move, seven power companies have so far applied with the NRA for safety inspections of 16 reactors at their nine nuclear power stations since the enforcement of the new regulatory standards for nuclear plants in July 2013.

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Recent opinion polls show that much of the public hopes that Japan will end its reliance on nuclear power.

Nevertheless, a draft of the basic plan on energy that the government worked out at the end of last year characterizes nuclear power as a base power source and states that Japan will retain a certain ratio of atomic power to Japan’s total electricity consumption. Moreover, the draft says that the government will allow power companies to restart their idled nuclear reactors if their safety is confirmed through the NRA’s inspections.

The new regulatory standards are the bare minimum that all nuclear regulators must meet before being reactivated. The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has set a target of decreasing Japan’s reliance on atomic power. Such being the case, the government should play a leading role in determining how many nuclear plants should be in operation in light of the risks of accidents, and gradually decommission reactors beginning with those that are oldest and most vulnerable to earthquakes.

The Onagawa plant was hit by stronger shaking and higher tsunami in the Great East Japan Earthquake than anticipated. Its operator argues that the plant’s main equipment withstood the disasters, but it is understandable that some local municipalities that host the power station are opposed to the planned restart of the plant for fear of an accident.

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None of the local bodies hosting the Onagawa plant and the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in TNiigata Prefecture — whose operators have applied for safety inspections — have worked out their evacuation plans. That is also the case with local municipalities hosting the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant, whose operator is set to apply for safety inspections within the current fiscal year. These local bodies face various difficulties in working out their evacuation plans, such as the large scale of damage that is feared will result from a powerful quake and the large population of their neighboring areas.

Even if local governments are to compile evacuation plans, they would be meaningless unless the municipalities repeatedly hold evacuation drills and ensure their effectiveness. The new regulatory standards for nuclear reactors should have required local bodies hosting nuclear power stations to map out evacuation plans as a precondition for reactivating idled nuclear reactors. In the United States, a number of nuclear plants were decommissioned because local bodies hosting them failed to work out evacuation plans for local residents.

Read more at Editorial: Prioritize evacuation plans before restarting nuclear reactors

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