Japan’s nuclear watchdog yesterday said the only two reactors currently working in the country can stay online for now, even without meeting strict new safety standards intended to prevent a repeat of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant disaster.
The decision came days before the new rules come into force, an event expected to prompt multiple requests from power companies for the green light to get their nuclear power plants operating.
It pushes back the likelihood of Japan being without any working reactors in the immediate future.
Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority concluded that Unit 3 and Unit 4 at the Oi nuclear power plant are “not in the condition that would pose immediate safety concerns,” even without being inspected under the new safety rules.
That ruling means operator Kansai Electric Power can keep the two units online until September, when they will undergo scheduled safety checks and be re-examined under the new rules, the authority said.
“I expect the operator will continue improving the safety of the plant toward meeting the new standards,” Nuclear Regulatory Authority head Shunichi Tanaka said.
The body will also continue examining if there are any active tectonic faults underneath the plant.
The stricter new standards are part of a government effort to convince a skeptical populace that it is taking safety issues seriously in post-Fukushima Dai-ichi Japan.
Leading figures in a vocal anti-nuclear movement say the nuclear industry had too cozy a relationship with its regulators in the decades leading up to the tsunami-sparked disaster in March 2011.
The new watchdog has set stricter new standards that operators must show they can meet before they will be granted permission to restart idle reactors. All but two of Japan’s 50 reactors — those at Oi — are offline.
Fukushima Dai-ichi operator Tokyo Electric Power Co said on Tuesday it would ask the regulator for permission to restart reactors at the world’s largest nuclear power plant at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa in Niigata Prefecture.