(Updates with comment in fourth paragraph.)
July 6 (Bloomberg) -- Japan will carry out safety tests of all nuclear stations to address concerns among communities hosting reactors, almost three weeks after the government declared them safe in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
“We need to conduct stress tests as soon as possible so we can have a better sense of safety,” Trade Minister Banri Kaieda told reporters in Tokyo today. “We must put priority on testing reactors that are preparing to restart.”
Governments around the world have called for inspections of atomic stations after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in caused the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. Local officials in Japan, including the governor of Hokkaido, have called for more assurances, after Kaieda said on June 18 the country’s nuclear operators had taken the proper steps to handle a similar incident.
“The government wants to show Japanese atomic plants meet international standards and to assure local residents reactors are safe,” said Kazuhiko Kudo, a research professor of nuclear engineering at Kyushu University. “It’s unlikely any reactors will be declared unsafe.”
Japan’s safety checks will take into consideration similar tests being carried out in Europe on nuclear plants that evaluate whether reactors can withstand disasters such as quakes and floods as well as plane crashes and explosions.
Pushing for Restarts
Kaida has been urging authorities in southwestern Japan to agree to the restart of two reactors operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co. that were idled for maintenance and due to restart in April. The stress tests will be carried out on the reactors before they go back online, Kaieda said today.
Demands for safety assurances followed three meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi station after the quake and tsunami knocked out power and cooling.
Kaieda’s turnaround came two weeks after Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismology professor at Kobe University, called for the closure of the nation’s 54 atomic reactors because none of them can be guaranteed to withstand strong earthquakes.
Ishibashi warned of a catastrophic nuclear disaster after Tokyo Electric’s Kashiwazaki Kariwa station was damaged by an earthquake in 2007, leading to radiation leaks.
Opposition to nuclear power is increasing in Japan following the crisis. The Nikkei newspaper reported this week that 69 percent of respondents to a phone poll oppose the restart of nuclear reactors currently shut for maintenance.
Kaieda’s announcement coincided with the revelation today that Kansai Electric Power Co. and Hokkaido Electric Power Co. are operating two nuclear reactors without regulatory approvals.
A reactor at Kansai Electric’s Ohi nuclear plant is operating at full capacity without the final go-ahead from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, Kazushige Maeda, a spokesman for the Osaka-based utility, said today by phone. The same applies for a reactor at Hokkaido Electric’s Tomari plant, spokesman Hisatoshi Kibayashi said.
The reactors started test runs days before the quake and tsunami.
“It’s unusual the reactors are running for four months on a test-run basis, but there is nothing illegal about it,” said Tomohiro Sawada, an assistant director at NISA’s nuclear power inspection division.
The approvals for the Ohi and Tomari reactors haven’t been granted because Kansai Electric and Hokkaido Electric have yet to submit requests to NISA, the spokesmen said. The utilities are waiting for the government and NISA to address local safety concerns before asking for approval, they said. Both reactors are supplying power to the electricity grid.
“NISA officials are dodging their responsibilities,” Kudo at Kyushu University said.
NISA checked the Ohi and Tomari reactors before the test runs began, Sawada said. Utilities need to have final inspections from NISA to check reactors are working as expected after a test run, he said.
--With assistance from Shunichi Ozasa, Aaron Sheldrick and Taku Kato in Tokyo. Editors: Aaron Sheldrick, Andrew Hobbs
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