13 Jun (NucNet): Organisational and human factors, including the lack of an independent national nuclear regulator, contributed to the severity of the March 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi accident in Japan, a safety conference heard yesterday.
Kenzo Oshima, commissioner of the Japanese Nuclear Regulatory Authority, told the second European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (Ensreg) Conference on Nuclear Safety in Europe in Brussels that the lack of independence of the national regulator meant little or no separation between the government and the regulatory body, resulting in a “cozy relationship” between the two. In effect, “the regulator was serving business interests”, he said.
In addition, it was left to operators to exercise their discretion when it came to the implementation of safety measures. The lack of mandatory measures made a weak framework for response to severe accidents. Any concerns voiced by the regulator resulted in the operator failing to exercise its discretion.
Mr Oshima highlighted the lack of a proper safety culture in Japan, which was dominated by a policy-culture of “nuclear infallibility”.
To resolve these issues, the Nuclear Regulation Authority was created in 2012 as an independent and transparent organisation.
Before the NRA was established, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) had both promoted nuclear energy and regulated it through a branch known as the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. The NRA was instead established under the Ministry of the Environment.
The main challenge for Japan according to Mr Oshima is “to regain public confidence and trust” in nuclear power and safety. Japan has to fundamentally “re-build its safety culture”.
European regulatory authorities agreed that the Fukushima-Daiichi accident has highlighted the need for independent, transparent and accountable national regulators in order to avoid organisational difficulties leading to mishandling of severe accidents.
Philip Lowe, director-general of the Directorate-General for Energy at the European Commission said “we need to maintain and strengthen the independence of national authorities”.
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