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Home arrow Environment arrow Reflections on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident

Requirements for New Regulatory System

Based on the lessons from these “failures,” what lesson we can learn to reform nuclear safety regulation?

Strengthening Independence

First, many argued the necessity of strengthening the independence of the nuclear regulatory authority body. If one of the causes of this accident was the regulatory authority's attitude of leaving voluntary safety efforts up to industry, this argument stands to reason. In addition, as long as this accident and the responses to it have undermined confidence in the regulatory bodies, to secure their independence is a necessary requirement for rebuilding public confidence.

In the past, when the radiation leakage incident of the atomic-powered ship Mutsu in September 1974 increased the public's mistrust, the institutional design of the atomic energy administration was put on review. As a result, the NSC was established in 1978 and the so-called “double-check” system was institutionalized in Japan: direct regulation of nuclear operators by the government regulatory agencies (the former Ministry of International Trade and Industry, etc.), and supervision/auditing of those agencies by the NSC for ensuring highly credible nuclear safety. In January 2001, NISA was newly established under METI as a “Special Organ” attached to the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy in response to the JCO criticality accident of September 1999. With this reform, the primary regulatory agency for nuclear safety secured “some” degree of independence from the Agency for Natural Recouces and Energy, which is also charged with promoting peaceful utilization of nuclear power.

These attempts at securing the independence of nuclear safety regulatory bodies, however, have coexisted with tendencies to depend on operators' voluntary safety efforts and to enhance collaboration and coordination with operators. These established ways had some merits, such as flexibility and regulatory cost savings. Still, in the case of crisis management of severe accidents like the Fukushima Daiichi accident, such institutions for nuclear safety regulation clearly caused delays in taking actions due to the unclear division of roles between operators and regulatory bodies. Nuclear Regulatory Authority established as an independent commission with decision making power in 2012 at least satisfied this requirement of independence.

Ensuring Integrative Capabilities

Second, some claim that it is essential for the regulatory body to ensure integrative capabilities around nuclear safety. They state that although independence is important for the regulatory body, what is required is not only institutional independence but also integrative expertise to ensure substantive autonomy. In fact, we can say that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has integrative expertise which exercises jurisdiction comprehensively over nuclear safety, security, and safeguards for non-proliferation and has a staff of some 3,000. Similarly in France, L'Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire (ASN) keeps those three areas under control in a comprehensive manner.

Of course, ensuring capabilities in nuclear safety regulation has been consistently an important issue in Japan too. Actually, after the JCO criticality accident and the reorganization of government ministries under the Hashimoto administrative reforms, NISA had been reinforced and JNES was established under NISA in 2003 with several functions transferred from some public-interest corporations. These regulatory agencies have been conducting mid-career recruitment from manufacturers in order to acquire technical expertise. Furthermore, NSC strengthened its secretariat functions after the JCO accident.

Despite these efforts, NISA, JNES and NSC have been facing the common challenge of human resource development. The mid-career staffs from manufacturers were certainly experts of parts of nuclear technology, but they could not always succeed in regulating in a comprehensive way, nor could they acquire enough skills as regulatory professionals to deal with operators.

In addition to these issues, there is also a problem with the adequacy of distribution of regulatory resources, that is, whether it is truly effective to establish two sets of regulatory bodies with the limited resources available after the series of administrative reforms: NISA and JNES primarily in charge of safety regulation; and NSC which conducts “double-checks.” Moreover, the radiation dose regulation and the safeguard, the former which sets the overall goal of nuclear safety regulation and the latter which is essential for non-proliferation, are both under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). This means that the authorities related to nuclear safety in its broad sense have

Table 14.1 Dispersion of regulatory agencies/ institutions

been widely dispersed (refer to the Table 14.1 for the numbers in each organization). The dispersion of regulatory agencies led to the situation in which the chief Cabinet secretary had no choice but to constantly be the point person explaining the changing circumstances right after the outbreak of the Fukushima Daiichi accident even though he was not an expert in any nuclear field.

Under these circumstances, it is considered necessary to establish a consolidated regulatory authority for nuclear safety and to utilize human resources in an integrated manner for the efficient development of regulatory capabilities and for nurturing experts' careers.

Nuclear Regulatory Authority having jurisdiction over security and safeguard in addition to safety, and absorbing JNES, basically satisfied the requirement of integration.

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