At a regular press conference on March 8, Chairman YAMANAKA Shinsuke of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) of Japan spoke about the agenda of his organization’s meeting earlier that day: the case of inadequate physical protection of nuclear materials at the Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Power Plants, owned and operated by the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), and the additional inspections that are being carried out. Chairman Yamanaka said that the NRA expects to begin its discussions in early or mid-May on a report regarding the inspections.
In response to a partial loss of function of nuclear material physical protection equipment at the Kashiwazaki Kariwa NPPs in March 2021, the NRA changed the regulatory response classification of the Kashiwazaki Kariwa NPPs to Classification 4, meaning that a state exists wherein the operator takes a lengthy time to perform a safety activity, or that there has been serious deterioration.
In April 2021, the NRA issued a remedial action order to TEPCO, leaving the company virtually unable to operate the NPPs until the situation could be improved to the level of Classification 1, meaning that voluntary improvements by the operator can be expected. The NRA then began additional inspections at the Kashiwazaki Kariwa NPPs.
Between the end of last year and February, Chairman Yamanaka and four commissioners visited the site for inspections. On March 3, an additional inspection team from the NRA’s secretariat heard from TEPCO’s President KOBAYAKAWA Tomoaki.
At the press conference, Chairman Yamanaka stated clearly that the NRA wanted to act on the question of whether lifting the order was appropriate or not “in a public place,” i.e., at an open NRA meeting. Included among the issues identified by the inspections were, in the tangible aspect, problems with detectors; and, in the abstract, general way (including at partner companies), insufficient systems for taking up matters involving “awareness,” and viewing “improvement” as something to be done when necessary, rather than continually. Chairman Yamanaka indicated that it would be quite difficult for the NRA to withdraw the order now. The total time spent on the additional inspections has reached 3,300 hours.
A bill related to the operation of reactors is now under consideration by the current session of the Diet. It includes a provision that “additional extensions of operating lifetimes could be recognized as limited ones”—that is, where NPPs have been suspended due to reasons unforeseeable by operators.” When asked if that provision could be applied to the Kashiwazaki Kariwa situation, Chairman Yamanaka responded only that it “would be decided by ANRE.”