Is there a stress test for stress tests?
A report in the Asahi Shimbun today entitled Nuclear Safety Advisers Slam Stress Tests describes the encouraging news that some members of Japan's nuclear village have seen the light and have decided to choose life.
Masashi Goto, a former nuclear power plant designer, and Hiromitsu Ino, emeritus professor at the University of Tokyo, who both served as members of an advisory committee to Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), have criticized the stress tests being applied to the nation's nuclear reactors. They say the tests don't "… look at complex scenarios, such as system-wide failure due to the aging of the plant, or human error… do not assess aging of plant equipment or other potential causes of accidents, such as fires, plane crashes, tornadoes or lightning."
They note that during the tsunami that hit Fukushima Daiichi there were pieces of rubble and boats flowing in, large amounts of fuel, and fires out at sea. These factors are not considered in the stress tests. They ask, "Is it sufficient that a plant can withstand an earthquake 1.8 times stronger than that it was designed for? What happens if an earthquake twice as strong hits?" They claim that the stress tests are nothing more than an "optimistic desk simulation."
They also doubted the impartiality of the IAEA, saying, "It is highly unlikely that the IAEA can undertake a fair assessment. The agency promotes the nuclear industry and it is only investigating the stress tests for a short time. The last IAEA report was very flimsy, and I fear it'll be the same this time."
There's something happening here. A few months ago I never thought I would be hearing anyone connected to NISA echoing what anti-nuclear activists and bloggers like me have been saying about these problems.
Goto and Ino also slammed an advisory committee for shutting out citizen participation. They announced, "It is inadmissible that the citizens' right to closely observe the review process was inhibited, the minimum requirements of democracy for such a crucial decision-making on whether or not to reopen nuclear power plants after a historic nuclear disaster… In reality what would make nuclear power really safe would be to make entire plants earthquake-proof, everything down to the wiring system. That's the viewpoint of the residents, and if you can't do it for financial reasons then I think they wouldn't want nuclear power at all."
In the same Asahi report, IAEA spokesman, Greg Webb, was reported as saying that the agency's mission is to improve safety regulations among member countries. He stressed, "the IAEA cannot guarantee the safety of any nuclear power plant and does not have the power to shut plants or keep them open…. Nuclear safety is a national responsibility in any country. No country has asked the IAEA to be a safety watchdog. We don’t conduct nuclear safety inspections."
I've been following the news of the IAEA's recent visits to Japan, and this is the first time they’ve gone out of their way to distance themselves from the consequences of Japan’s decisions about nuclear energy. Extremely diplomatic and vague language is the norm. Maybe means no, room for improvement means egregious lapses in safety procedures, it’s difficult means hell will freeze over before that happens, and and when the IAEA says nuclear safety is a national responsibility in any country it means Japan would have to be batshit crazy to continue accumulating nuclear waste and operating nuclear reactors on these seismic fault lines, but it's their choice if they want to kill themselves. I suspect there are many nuclear engineers in other countries with lower risks of earthquakes who are thinking this way. They may be confident about their own safety record, but they have come to the sensible conclusion that nuclear is not a wise energy option for Japan.