Nuclear safety – Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida

Nuclear safety - Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida: "Japan needs to prepare fourth level and fifth level defense-in-depth to nuclear accidents"

“Japan needs to prepare fourth level and fifth level defense-in-depth to nuclear accidents”

Governor Hirohiko Izumida: “Nuclear power operating companies should have their headquarters at the nuclear power plant in order to immediately take responsibility and respond.”

Governor Hirohiko Izumida (泉田裕彦) is elected by the 2.3 million people of Niigata Prefecture to be responsible for their lives, safety and assets. The world’s largest nuclear power plant, Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Power Station (柏崎刈羽原子力発電所) with seven reactors and 8 GigaWatt power, is located in Niigata Prefecture, but as all other nuclear power stations in Japan, it is currently switched off.

On October 15, 2014, Governor Izumida in his official role, explained a long list of detailed safety concerns, and a list of necessary changes in legislation and emergency command regulations in order to ensure nuclear safety. These safety concerns include the reduced responsibilities of the new Japanese Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which limits its responsibility to technical issues, and shies away from the broader issues of nuclear accident management, in particular, IAEA’s fourth level and fifth level of defense-in-depth. Governor Izumida demands a full investigation of the Fukushima nuclear disaster which should address who is responsible, and in particular also why the knowledge of the meltdown was hidden for more than two months.

Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida’s safety concerns – overview:

  1. Safety concerns regarding the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
    1. the Fukushima accident was not yet sufficiently investigated or reviewed
    2. shrinking jurisdiction of the NRC. Regulatory safety standards have been reduced to performance standards. NRC have reduced their actual work.
    3. insufficient support for IAEA “defense-in-depth”. No provision at all for IAEA fifth level, and insufficient provision for IAEA fourth level response
    4. insufficient support for municipalities
  2. Safety concerns regarding nuclear accident preparations
    1. no meltdown countermeasures
    2. decision making during crisis, e.g. seawater flooding of a reactor in risk of meltdown. Salarymen including Presidents of companies are not equipped for such serious decisions during crisis.
    3. emergency response under high radiation. Revision of labor laws is necessary. Immediate response team needs to be created.
  3. Safety concerns regarding evacuation policies
    1. unification of legal systems: natural disaster response and nuclear disaster response needs to be integrated, and two-tiered command structure needs to be unified
    2. decisions of nuclear disaster response needs to be reformed
    3. insufficient response for sheltering in place when evacuation is impossible
    4. current regulations for the distribution of Iodine tablets are impossible to implement. Need for realistic regulations which can actually be implemented in case of disaster.
    5. Disaster response under high radiation levels: reform of labor laws necessary. Need to clarify hierarchy and issue of orders during emergency. Must review laws for command structure, responsibility and compensation.
    6. Other concerns: screening and decontamination, safety of assets in evacuation areas, nuclear disaster prevention system.
  4. Safety concerns regarding TEPCO
    1. Inadequate investigation and review. No one has taken responsibility for the Fukushima accident. TEPCO has not explained who was responsible for the 2 months delay in acknowledging the meltdown.
    2. Economic issues are given priority over safety. TEPCO should have their headquarters at the nuclear power station in order to immediately take responsibility and respond.

Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Power Station (柏崎刈羽原子力発電所)

Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Power Station (柏崎刈羽原子力発電所) is the world’s largest nuclear power station, and consists of 7 reactors with a total capacity of about 8 GigaWatt. It began operations in September 1985.

Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Power Station is located about 220km from Tokyo, in Niigata-ken in the village Kariwa (刈羽村) near the town Kashiwazaki (柏崎市), and about 80km from the Niigata Prefecture capital Niigata-shi. Niigata Prefecture has about 2.3 million population.

At the time of this article, the Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Power Station, as all other Japanese nuclear power stations, is completely switched off, and the time of a potential restart of any of its seven reactors is unclear.

The Heisei 19 (2007) Chuetsu Offshore Earthquake” (平成19年新潟県中越沖地震)

The Heisei 19 (2007) Chuetsu Offshore Earthquake” (平成19年新潟県中越沖地震) (Niigata Prefecture Government record for the 2007 Chuetsu Offshore Earthquake) took place on July 16, 2007 at 10:13am of magnitude 6 on the Japanese Shindo-Scale, and caused fires and a number of other worrying defects at Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Power Station.

Lessons learnt and implemented from the fires and other defects caused by the 2007 Chuetsu Offshore Earthquake at the Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Power Station

Hirohiko Izumida was Governor of Niigata at the time of the 2007 Chuetsu Offshore Earthquake on July 16, 2007. The Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Power Station was about 20km from the epicenter, the ground at the Nuclear Power station dropped about 1.5 Meters leading to a fire of the transformer at the nuclear reactor Unit 3.

Due to the damage caused by the earthquake, Niigata Prefecture Government had no communication link to the Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Power Station, all we could do was to follow the fire on public television. There had been a hotline, but it was not secure, and because of the dropped land, the entrance door to the building containing the hotline connection became warped and the hotline became unaccessible at the nuclear power station.

Land dropped by 1.5 meters and distorted pipes which caused the fire. We are concerned that similar damage could render the venting tubes dysfunctional.

Governor Izumida insisted that a seismically secure communications building and hotline should be built at Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Power Station and also at other nuclear power stations including the Fukushima Nuclear Power stations.

We requested TEPCO very strongly to build a secure building for a secure hotline between the Nuclear Power Station and the Prefectural Government Office. Initially, TEPCO rejected this request, because at that time such a hotline was not required by regulations, and Governor Izumida was told that it should be sufficient to use mobile phones for emergency communications (note that Japan’s mobile phone networks were largely out of service for several days after the March 11, 2011 Tohoku earthquake).

Governor Izumida insisted that a seismically isolated building for a hotline and a secure hotline be built, and because of the strong instance this hotline was built. Governor Izumida also insisted that the same type of secure communications buildings and hotlines should be built at other nuclear power stations including Fukushima Dai Ichi. The secure communications building and hotline at Fukushima Dai Ichi was only completed 8 months before the March 11, 2011 earthquake.

Governor Izumida feels, that if he had not insisted on the construction of secure communications buildings and hotlines at Fukushima and Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power stations, there might be no-one living in Tokyo today.

Governor Izumida demands improvement of fire fighting infrastructure at nuclear power stations.

At the 2007 Chuetsu Offshore Earthquake the underground emergency water supply lines were destroyed, and the fire fighting forces could not help and had to leave the nuclear power plant. We insisted on improvements of the fire fighting infrastructure.

Governor Izumida has grave concerns on the current work of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)

We have grave concerns on the Nuclear Regulatory System today, as the Fukushima accident has not yet been fully investigated. Therefore it is not yet possible to draw all necessary lessons from the Fukushima disaster for the necessary new nuclear regulatory system.

We believe that the current Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is shrinking its responsibility: we believe that the current Chairman Tanaka of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is restricting his responsibility to a narrow range of technical issues, and withdrawing from his responsibilities for the wider safety issues.

The law says, that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission “must ensure the safety of the usage of nuclear power”. Governor Izumida thinks that the current commission and it’s Chairman Tanaka is not fulfilling this obligation to ensure the overall safety, and instead focuses only on a limited range of technical issues.

Insufficient support for “defense-in-depth” recommended by the IAEA: NRC does not take responsibility for the Fifth Level of IAEA defense-in-depth

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recommends a system of “defense-in-depth“, which includes mitigation of nuclear accidents in different levels.

IAEA levels of defense-in-depth:

  1. First level: Prevention of abnormal operation and failures
  2. Second level: Control of abnormal operation and detection of failures
  3. Third level: Control of accidents within the design basis
  4. Fourth level: Control of severe plant conditions including prevention of accident progression and mitigation of severe accident consequences
  5. Fifth level: Mitigation of radiological consequences of significant off-site releases of radioactive materials

Fifth Level response is absent – NRC needs to build fifth level response

Governor Izumida: The current Japanese Nuclear Regulatory Commission essentially does not take any responsibility at all for the fifth level of the response in depth recommended by the IAEA, and in case of the Fourth Level

Fourth Level response is insufficient – NRC needs to expand fourth level response

Governor Izumida: the current Japanese Nuclear Regulatory Commission restricts its responsibilities to hardware issues and does not touch on operations.

Insufficient support for municipalities

The communication between Japanese Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the local authorities is totally inadequate, basically the NRC does not listen to us directly, although we – the local Government authorities – have to take care of the local population when an accident occurs.

Insufficient preparations for the case of a nuclear accident

Other countries are taking very detailed preparations for the case of nuclear accidents or melt-downs: for example European countries are requiring core catchers, and the US has centralized response forces. Governor Izumida feels that in Japan preparations are totally insufficient and need to be much improved.

“Salarymen” employees, including company Presidents, in case of a melt-down are not equipped to take necessary decisions for example to inject sea water for cooling, which is certain to destroy a US$ 5 billion investment

Current decision making processes and legal frameworks are totally insufficient for the case of nuclear accidents.

To be specific, at the time of the Fukushima Nuclear disaster on March 14th – 15th, TEPCO employees could not make the necessary decision quickly enough to pump seawater into the Fukushima nuclear power station.

“Salarymen” employees, even if they are Presidents of companies, are not equipped to take decisions which destroy equipment which represents US$ 5 billion (YEN 500 billion) investment, as injecting seawater for cooling as in the case of Fukushima Dai Ichi. We need regulations to take necessary decisions quickly.

A further problem is that when private company employees work at the nuclear accident location, they are governed by the common labor laws, so they cannot be forced to work at dangerous high-radiation locations. This also needs to be solved.

Command structure currently leads to confusion in case of nuclear accidents

With the current legal framework in Japan, in the case of a natural disaster, the State Minister in charge of disaster prevention sets up Disaster Headquarters.

In the case of a nuclear disaster however, the Head of the Nuclear Regulatory Agency sets up its own Disaster Headquarters. So if we have a natural disaster and a nuclear disaster concurrently, as in the case of Fukushima, we have two competing Disaster Headquarters, which leads to great confusion.

In the case of natural disasters, the local authorities can issues evacuation orders. However, in the case of a nuclear disaster, the Prime Minister gives the evacuation orders – again a reason for inconsistencies and confusion.

Also the provisions for people who cannot evacuate for health or other reasons is inadequate.

Many current regulatory provisions are impossible to implement

As an example, according to the standards by the NRC for nuclear accidents, the population within a 5km – 30km radius needs to be sheltered in-doors, in the case of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa this population is about 440,000 people. According to current regulations, Iodine tablets need to be distributed after the accident occurs. If venting becomes necessary 8 1/2 hours after the accident, this means that current regulation requires that Iodine tablets must be distributed to 440,000 people within 8 1/2 hours. The medical association tells us that it is impossible to distribute Iodine tablets to 440,000 people within 8 1/2 hours.

It is one thing to create regulations on paper, but Governor Izumida asks the NRC to create regulations which can actually be implemented.


Q: How can the NRC reduce its responsibilities by itself, while these responsibilities are surely fixed by the relevant laws?
A: The law says very clearly that the NRC is responsible for ensuring the safety of nuclear power. I feel that the Chairman of the NRC Tanaka is reluctant to meet with the local authorities, and I think only recently has he started to talk to TEPCO, probably following pressure. Mr Tanaka is a teacher, a Professor of nuclear technology, so I believe that he is focusing to much on the technical issues, focusing on the nuclear technology, and that he neglects the wider issues of safeguarding the lives and assets of the people.

Q: What you are saying sounds very obvious and common sense. Why does nobody else except you speak out clearly about these issues?
A: I think there are two reasons:
1. I had first hand experience as Governor of the 2007 fire at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Station caused by the 2007 Chuetsu Offshore earthquake,
2. As Governor of Niigata I was deeply involved from the beginning in the Fukushima Dai Ichi nuclear accident, I heard all the communication and information from the Fukushima nuclear power station, the Government and TEPCO and experts.
Therefore I have direct experience with nuclear accidents, and know which developments are likely to happen. I can imagine which sequence of events are likely to occur as a consequence of nuclear accidents. Therefore I can speak with confidence.

I should also say that some of the points raised are not just points raised by Niigata Prefecture. There is an Organization of Governors of those Prefectures where nuclear power stations are located. Many of the points I have raised are shared by all Governors of Prefectures with nuclear power stations. No-one in this
organizations has raised objections to the points I am raising.

Q: NRC Chairman Tanaka says that Japan now has the world’s strictest safety regulations. Is this true?
A: I am the Governor of Niigata Prefecture, therefore all my statements refer primarily to the safety of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Station in my prefecture.

The new Nuclear Safety Standards of Japan do not include any provisions at all regarding the fifth level of the “defense-in-depth” recommendations of the IAEA, and in case of the fourth level they do not go deep enough at all. Therefore my conclusion is that Japan’s new Nuclear Safety Standards are not the strongest in the world.

Q: Do you think that concerns about nuclear accident mitigation plans and evacuations plans are holding back the restart of nuclear power plants in Japan?
A: My primary mission as Governor is to safeguard the safety, lives and assets of the citizens of our Prefecture. TEPCO knew from very early on that a nuclear meltdown occurred at Fukushima Dai Ichi, yet TEPCO hid this fact for more than two months. If an organization does not reveal the information about something that serious we cannot make any reasonable evacuation plans. To make evacuation plans we need to have reliable information about the actual situation. We have to ask the question whether an organization that hides the truth can even have the right to operate a nuclear power plant.
The first step needs to be to thoroughly investigate the Fukushima Disaster and to determine where the responsibilities lie. Before we have such an investigation we cannot even think about restarting nuclear power plants.

Q: Don’t you think that nuclear power has any positive points? Are you saying there are zero benefits in operating nuclear power stations?
A: My responsibility as Governor of Niigata is for the safety and lives of the citizens of Niigata, and I am speaking in my official capacity as Governor of Niigata. Therefore all my comments about restarts are limited to Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power station and TEPCO. It is not my responsibility to talk about the general issues of what Japan as a country should do about nuclear power.
Regarding Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power stations and TEPCO my position is very very clear.
However, regarding TEPCO, TEPCO hid the crucial information of the nuclear meltdown for two months. My question is whether such an organization has the right to operate nuclear power stations at all. Before this question is not addressed, I cannot enter into any discussions about restarting the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power station.

Q: Don’t you think seven nuclear reactors in one location are too many? In Germany only two reactors are permitted at one location.
A: This question has also been raised by our population. However among experts we hear differing opinions. We need to look not only at technical issues, but also at management structures. Therefore at our Prefectural Government we have formed a committee of experts and we are investigating this and other safety questions in detail.

Hirohiko Izumida, Governor of Niigata Prefecture talks about nuclear safety – watch on YouTube:

Hirohiko Izumida, Governor of Niigata Prefecture

Nuclear safety - Governor of Niigata Prefecture Hirohiko Izumida comments on his experience with the world's largest nuclear power plant Kashiwazaki-Kariwa
Nuclear safety – Governor of Niigata Prefecture Hirohiko Izumida comments on his experience with the world’s largest nuclear power plant Kashiwazaki-Kariwa

Hirohiko Izumida (泉田裕彦) is the elected Governor of Niigata-Prefecture, elected by the people of Niigata. He assumed office on October 25, 2004, two days after the Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake.
Governor Izumida was born on September 15, 1962 in Kamo, Niigata Prefecture
March 1987, graduated from the Law Department of Kyoto University.
April 1987, entered Ministry of Economics and Industry METI, energy resources bureau
June 1994, visiting researcher at the University of British Columbia.
June 1998, Prime Minister’s Office
July 2001, Land and Transportation Ministry
November 2003, Head of the Gifu Prefecture Industrial Labor Bureau
October 2004, elected Governor of Niigata Prefecture

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