Tohoku Electric seeks reactor restart; praise, anger expressed over NRA changes via Asahi Shimbun

Tohoku Electric Power Co. on June 10 applied to the Nuclear Regulation Authority for safety screenings to restart a reactor that might lie directly above an active fault.

The application for the Higashidori nuclear power plant in Aomori Prefecture was submitted after the government announced plans to replace a NRA commissioner criticized as overly cautious with a pro-nuclear expert. The personnel change has drawn praise from residents around the Higashidori plant and outrage from victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The Diet on June 11 approved the Abe administration’s proposed personnel changes that would replace Shimazaki, a seismology expert, with Satoru Tanaka, a nuclear engineering professor at the University of Tokyo and a leading proponent of nuclear energy.

Another NRA commissioner, Kenzo Oshima, will also leave the nuclear watchdog. He will be replaced by Akira Ishiwatari, a professor of geology at Tohoku University, who has only tepid links to the nuclear industry. Some experts expect Ishiwatari to be impartial in judging the safety of nuclear reactors.

The reaction to the NRA changes was quite different in Fukushima Prefecture, where evacuees from the nuclear accident triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 said they fear that nuclear safety is again taking a back seat to industry interests.

“The personnel replacement is advantageous to those who want to restart reactors, and will render the current nuclear regulations ineffective,” said Hiroaki Kanno, 66, a doctor in Fukushima, who evacuated from Namie, Fukushima Prefecture.

A resident of Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture, said the Abe administration’s latest decision violates personnel shift rules introduced by the previous administration led by the Democratic Party of Japan.

“It is lunacy that the Abe administration is attempting to appoint Tanaka, an obviously ineligible figure, as commissioner,” said Ruiko Muto, a 60-year-old former teacher who is seeking to hold senior officials of Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the Fukushima No. 1 plant, criminally responsible for the disaster.

Yayoi Hitomi, 53, a magazine editor in Koriyama in the prefecture, said the government’s move reminded her of the failures of the NRA’s predecessor to properly evaluate the dangers at the Fukushima plant.

“(The commissioner replacement) represents a de facto revival of the Nuclear Safety Commission,” she said.

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