Nuclear Town’s Last Remaining Resident

March 10, 2012 by staff 

Nuclear Town’s Last Remaining Resident, Right after three reactors in northeastern Japan sank into meltdowns, the government vowed to crack down on the cozy relations between the nuclear industry and its regulators. One year later, it has yet to even appoint committee members to scrutinize the “revolving door” of officials landing jobs in the very industries they regulate.

There is little to suggest that the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl has brought a substantially new way of thinking to nuclear regulation in Japan, or brought a much stronger sense of urgency to improving safety at its 54 reactors. Regulators are still part of the trade ministry, which promotes nuclear power, rather than the environment ministry, as the government proposed months ago.

Only two plants have built up seawalls since the Fukushima Dai-ichi meltdowns, and one of them is Fukushima Dai-ichi. Only one plant has installed the kind of vents that could have prevented the hydrogen explosions that escalated the nuclear crisis. Officials are reviewing the chaotic evacuation of the radioactive zone to improve disaster response, but few concrete steps have been taken.

One thing Japan has done with its nuclear plants is shut them down after routine inspections. All but two are offline under a new regime of safety checks, and the remaining plants are expected to shut down by late April. It’s unclear when the reactors will start producing power again, but even when shut down they require cooling and tsunami protection.

The checks use computer simulations to see if plants can hold up, or at least avoid a major crisis, if a big earthquake or tsunami hits. Critics say the tests should be more rigorous.

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