The owner of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan should convene a panel of foreign operators to review its safety standards, an adviser has said.
Dale Klein, a former chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, was hired by Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) to be the chairman of a third-party panel commissioned to oversee the reform of its nuclear division following the March 2011 meltdown at its Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Tepco has applied to Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority to restart its Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant, some 300km (180 miles) northwest of Tokyo, but Klein said it should hold a review even if it obtains clearance from regulators to provide additional assurance that the utility could be trusted to run a nuclear plant safely.
Klein, who was in Tokyo for a meeting of Tepco’s nuclear reform panel, said representatives of US nuclear operators such as Southern, Exelon and Pinnacle West Capital's Arizona Public Service subsidiary could be sent in as advisers to Tepco.
"I would like to see what I call a readiness review," Klein told Reuters in an interview. "You've got regulatory aspects – Do you meet everything? Do you have right training? – and then, I think, because of Fukushima Daiichi, the Japanese public would feel better if another group came in and said operationally they are ready. I have been pushing for that."
At present the prospects of a restart remain uncertain, in part because of opposition from Niigata Prefecture Governor Hirohiko Izumida, a strident critic of Tepco and its response to the Fukushima disaster.
Klein said he believed Tokyo Electric was making progress in developing a culture of safety, modelled on the manufacturing controls pioneered by Japanese companies such as Toyota Motor to ensure quality in production, but he said completing that process could take years.
"It's going slower than I would like," he added.
Klein, who was NRC chairman from 2006 to 2009, said he had asked Tepco executives to brief his reform panel early next year on progress it has made to ensure workers involved in the clean-up of the Fukushima plant are being properly employed by subcontractors and protected from radiation hazards.
Last month, the operator removed 400 tonnes of spent uranium fuel from a damaged reactor building, the first of four sets of used rods to be removed in a clean-up operation that has been plagued with delays and leaks of radioactive water and is expected to last decades.
The utility known as Tepco completed the removal of 1,331 spent fuel rods from the upper levels of the badly damaged reactor Number 4 building, which was a source of concern during the disaster because of fears it would collapse in another earthquake, leading to exposure of the spent fuel.
Tepco still needs to remove 180 fuel assemblies that haven't been used but these are considered less dangerous than spent fuel as they have not been irradiated in the reactor.
The unused assemblies will be moved to reactor Number 6, which was unscathed when an earthquake and tsunami knocked out power and cooling in March 2011 causing the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
The spent rods and 22 unused assemblies were placed in a storage pool at ground level at the plant, Tepco said. It must repeat the task in the three reactors that experienced meltdowns during the disaster and are holding almost 1,400 fuel assemblies in storage pools on their upper floors.
Once the spent fuel has been removed, Tepco can address the most difficult task of extracting the three reactor cores that melted during the crisis, an unprecedented occurrence.