Japan nuke operator submits safety upgrade plans

Published April 9, 2012 10:00AM (EDT)

TOKYO (AP) — A Japanese utility sought government approval Monday to restart two nuclear reactors even though some key upgrades to prevent another nuclear crisis will take three years.

All but one of Japan's 54 reactors are offline for regular safety checks, and the last will be shut down in May. Residents fear another disaster like the Fukushima crisis, but Japan faces a severe power shortage if reactors are not restarted.

The government issued new safety guidelines to address residents' worries, but it gave no deadline for when the improvements must be finished. Utility officials say the full upgrades will take three years.

Kansai Electric Power Co. submitted its safety plans for two reactors in Fukui prefecture, and the government's final decision on whether to restart the reactors is reportedly expected later this week.

"We'll aim to achieve the world's top-class safety at our plants," said Kansai Electric President Makoto Yagi as he handed the safety improvement roadmap to Economy and Industry Minister Yukio Edano.

However, more than one third of the necessary upgrades on the list are still incomplete, utility officials said.

Filtered vents that could substantially reduce radiation leaks in case of an accident threatening an explosion, a radiation-free crisis management building, and fences to block debris washed up by a tsunami won't be ready until 2015. This means the plant, as well as plant workers and residents won't be fully protected from radiation leaks if a Fukushima-class accident occurs while the measures are being taken.

Currently, the crisis management headquarters at the Ohi plant is in the basement. The plant is relocating the function to a room next to the control room for the two reactors. None of Japan's 54 nuclear reactors are equipped with filtered vents, although their operators are moving to install them in coming years.

"The operators are expected to take initiative to improve safety and reliability, and never dwell on the safety myth," Edano told Yagi, urging the utility to expedite the process.

The startup guidelines are based on recommendations adopted last month by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. The most crucial measures to secure cooling functions and prevent meltdowns as in Fukushima were incorporated in the government's guidelines, but the rest were not.

By Salon Staff

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