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IAEA cites improvements since Fukushima

Japan strengthened inspections as part of efforts to improve regulation of nuclear and radiation safety in the wake of the Fukushima Daichi accident in 2011.

WASHINGTON (AN) — Japan has strengthened inspections as part of efforts to improve regulation of nuclear and radiation safety in the wake of the Fukushima Daichi accident in 2011, the International Atomic Energy Agency said on Tuesday.

The United Nations nuclear watchdog agency's Integrated Regulatory Review Service team conducted an eight-day follow-up mission this month to review Japan’s implementation of recommendations made during the initial IRRS mission four years ago. It concluded significant progress has been made.

Before being shut down as a result of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, Japan’s 54 nuclear power reactors produced about 30% of the country’s electricity. Nine reactors were restarted after conforming to safety requirements introduced since the accident, IAEA said.

The country also has fuel cycle facilities and research reactors, and widely uses nuclear applications in industry, hospitals, and other fields.

"Japan has made considerable headway,” IRRS team leader Ramzi Jammal said in a statement. “This work to strengthen safety should continue in order to address remaining regulatory challenges, including the effective implementation of the new inspection regime.”

IRRS peer review missions are designed to strengthen the effectiveness of the national nuclear regulatory infrastructure, based on IAEA safety standards and international best practices, while recognizing the responsibility of each country to ensure nuclear and radiation safety.

The Fukushima Daiichi disaster is the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster at a Soviet Union nuclear reactor in a region now recognized as Ukraine, and the only incident ever to be declared a “Level 7” on the International Nuclear Event Scale.

An earthquake sparked a tsunami that knocked out power for coolant systems at the station in central Japan, leading to three nuclear meltdowns and hydrogen explosions that released radiation and forced the evacuation of more than 150,000 people from the surrounding area.

IAEA standards generally met

The scope of this month's IRRS follow-up mission covered the same areas that were reviewed in 2016, including the responsibilities and functions of government. The team was also asked to review safety related to the transportation of radioactive material.

The experts said Japan has implemented many of the recommendations and suggestions from 2016, including the establishment of an inspection program with increased powers to access nuclear facilities, with the right to carry out unannounced inspections at any time, and the introduction of a systematic process to review and update safety regulations and guidance.

The IRRS team said there were areas requiring further work and recommended that Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority fully implement its integrated management system and further strengthen its regulatory oversight of radiation protection for workers.

Regarding transport safety, the IRRS team noted that Japan generally implements regulations in line with IAEA standards. It wanted some specific improvements, including periodic exercises to test emergency response arrangements for the transportation of radioactive material and the extension of inspection programs to cover all types of packages used to transport such material.

Regulatory programs “should now be fully implemented in a manner commensurate with the assessed risks posed by regulated facilities and activities to ensure adequate protection of the public and the environment,” said Greg Rzentkowski, director of IAEA's division of nuclear installation safety.

The 18-member IRRS team includes experts from Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Pakistan, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States, along with six IAEA staff members. An observer from Canada also participated.

Their final mission report will be provided to the government of Japan in about three months.