An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) team of experts has concluded that Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) safety has demonstrated independence and transparency since it was set up in 2012.
However, it needs to further strengthen its technical competence in view the planned restart of nuclear reactors which were closed following the March 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi accident. The IRRS team, which spent 12 days assessing Japan's regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety, comprised 19 experts from 17 countries and five IAEA. It warned of "significant challenges" ahead and called on the NRA to work to attract competent and experienced staff, and improve staff skills.
The team said Japanese authorities should amend legislation to allow the NRA to perform more effective inspections of nuclear facilities and recommended further strengthening the promotion of safety culture, including fostering "a questioning attitude".
The team said NRA had incorporated lessons learnt from Fukushima-Daiichi in the areas of natural hazards, severe accident management, emergency preparedness and safety upgrades of existing facilities, into Japan's new regulatory framework.
"In the few years since its establishment, the NRA has demonstrated its independence and transparency," said team leader Philippe Jamet, commissioner of the French Nuclear Safety Authority. "It has established new regulatory requirements for nuclear installations and reviewed the first restart applications by utilities. This intensive and impressive work must continue with equal commitment, as there are still significant challenges in the years to come."
The IAEA team reviewed the responsibilities and functions of the government and the regulatory body for safety, the authorisation of nuclear and radiation facilities and activities, safety assessments, inspections of nuclear facilities, emergency preparedness and response, and several other areas in the field of nuclear and radiation safety. Juan Carlos Lentijo, IAEA deputy director-general and head of the department for safety and security, said Japan has reformed its regulatory system with "impressive speed and effectiveness" following the Fukushima-Daiichi accident.
"Today, the system provides for clearer responsibilities and greater authority to the regulatory body," he said. "The NRA is on a good path to continue this crucial progress in the future. Its work must continue to ensure that the new regulatory system is applied fully to all facilities and activities." The team's final report will be delivered to the Japanese government in about three months. The government plans to make the report public.
Before the Fukushima-Daiichi accident, Japan's nuclear plants produced about 30% of total electricity generation, the IAEA said. Two reactors were restarted in 2015 with NRA authorisation, and the NRA is reviewing other restart applications using the new requirements. All 48 reactor units were shut down for safety checks and upgrades following Fukushima-Daiichi. Five are to be permanently shutdown, bringing the number of potentially operable commercial units to 43. In May 2015 Japan's government said it wanted to see a 20-22 percent nuclear share in the country's energy mix by 2030, down from about 30 percent before Fukushima-Daiichi.