Security flaws at N-power plant show need for serious reform at TEPCO

How could this happen? The accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant should have made Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc. keenly aware of the importance of safety measures. TEPCO needs to reflect hard on its repeated failures.

Several intrusion detection devices at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture had malfunctioned. The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has decided to issue an order to TEPCO prohibiting it from moving nuclear fuel because the malfunction could have allowed terrorists to enter the plant.

The problem came to light when a worker accidentally broke one of the detection devices. The NRA investigated the matter and found that the monitoring function was not working properly at 10 locations. What on earth was going on with TEPCO’s management system?

At the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, it was revealed that a worker who had lost his ID card used a colleague’s pass to enter the central control room in violation of regulations. As a company that operates nuclear power plants, it must be said that it lacks a sense of crisis.

As decisions have been made to decommission the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 nuclear power plants, Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, which has seven reactors, is the only TEPCO nuclear power plant for which a restart is possible. After the Great East Japan Earthquake, the plant passed the regulatory committee’s examination and was in the process of coordinating with local authorities to restart operations, but the latest scandal will inevitably cause a significant delay.

TEPCO had expected to derive tens of billions of yen per reactor in profits from the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, which was expected to be restarted gradually from fiscal 2021. The loss of these profits will be a major blow to the business.

For the decommissioning of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, work to remove melted fuel and dismantle the buildings is estimated to cost ¥8 trillion. It might be difficult to raise the funds to pay for such work.

Public distrust of the safety of nuclear power plants is behind the lack of progress in restarting plants across Japan. TEPCO must recognize anew that society is looking at it harshly and work to overhaul nuclear plant security measures.

The company might have neglected counterterrorism measures because it has focused efforts on earthquake and tsunami measures to restart operations after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Hasn’t the morale of TEPCO employees suffered due to the about 10-year suspension of operations at its nuclear plants? TEPCO should proceed with a drastic review of its organizational management.

The electric power companies and the NRA need to conduct a comprehensive inspection to see if there are similar problems with the security systems at other nuclear power plants.

To prevent global warming, a movement has been growing worldwide for decarbonization — the reduction or elimination of greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear power plants, which emit no carbon dioxide, are an effective means of achieving this goal.

TEPCO must do its utmost to restore the lost trust of the public so as not to reduce the options for the country’s energy policy.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 27, 2021.