Japan Atomic Disaster Prompted Nuclear Reforms Elsewhere

Technicians and journalists walk along a wall lined with paper cranes on Monday at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. More than a dozen nations revamped domestic atomic safety measures in response to damage sustained by the Japanese facility following an earthquake and tsunami three years ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
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Diane Barnes
March 11, 2014, 10:50 a.m.

The reg­u­lat­ory im­pact of Ja­pan’s Fukushi­ma crisis ex­tends far past the is­land na­tion’s shores, says a U.S. re­port is­sued on the dis­aster’s third an­niversary.

More than a dozen oth­er coun­tries en­acted safety re­forms at non­mil­it­ary atom­ic sites fol­low­ing the severe dam­age in­flic­ted on Ja­pan’s Fukushi­ma Daii­chi nuc­le­ar power plant by the earth­quake and tsunami of Mar. 11, 2011, ac­cord­ing to the re­port by the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice. The fail­ure of aux­il­i­ary power sys­tems at the fa­cil­ity led to cool­ing-sys­tem fail­ures and melt­downs in three of its six re­act­ors, al­low­ing ra­dio­act­ive ma­ter­i­al to es­cape in­to the air and neigh­bor­ing sea.

Gov­ern­ments with es­tab­lished nuc­le­ar-en­ergy pro­grams have re­spon­ded in part by con­duct­ing safety checks, in­clud­ing com­pre­hens­ive “stress tests” that can scru­tin­ize a fa­cil­ity’s abil­ity to with­stand an ex­trem­ist as­sault, the as­sess­ment in­dic­ates.

The re­port’s au­thors said nuc­le­ar-safety plan­ners are now “con­sid­er­ing pre­vi­ously un­ima­gined ac­ci­dent scen­ari­os,” in­clud­ing dis­asters “that could in­volve mul­tiple re­act­ors at a single power plant.”

“In ad­di­tion, new re­quire­ments for emer­gency equip­ment, such as backup elec­tric gen­er­at­ors, in case of the loss of off-site power, as oc­curred at the Fukushi­ma Daii­chi nuc­le­ar power plant, are an area of fo­cus among the reg­u­lat­ory bod­ies in GAO’s re­view,” the aud­it­ors wrote.

The in­vest­ig­at­ors said some areas are still in need of im­prove­ment, in­clud­ing an in­ter­na­tion­al “peer-re­view” frame­work to help scru­tin­ize how well vari­ous states are com­ply­ing with In­ter­na­tion­al Atom­ic En­ergy Agency safety guidelines. That sys­tem, aud­it­ors wrote, lacks a mech­an­ism for fol­low­ing up on wheth­er vet­ted gov­ern­ments fol­low through on re­com­mend­a­tions.

GAO of­fi­cials said the U.S. State De­part­ment and Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion should “en­cour­age” the U.N. nuc­le­ar watch­dog agency “to sys­tem­at­ic­ally track the status of re­com­mend­a­tions made by IAEA peer re­view mis­sions.”

The con­gres­sion­al re­port ex­amined nuc­le­ar-policy re­sponses to the Fukushi­ma dis­aster in 16 coun­tries, and iden­ti­fied new re­forms in all of them: Ar­gen­tina, Ar­menia, Bel­gi­um, Canada, China, France, In­done­sia, Ja­pan, Pakistan, Rus­sia, South Korea, Sweden, the United Ar­ab Emir­ates, the United King­dom, the United States and Vi­et­nam.

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