Extra experts for Japanese regulator

25 October 2013

The Japanese cabinet today approved the merger of a technical support organisation with the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), a move that will significantly boost its manpower.

Formed since the Fukushima accident with a more independent mandate than its predeccessor, the NRA has two pressing tasks: It must oversee the decommissioning work at the Fukushima Daiichi site and process the applications to restart other reactors.

The NRA will benefit in this work by adding the experience and resources of the Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organisation (JNES), which was set up in 2003 as an expert body to inspect nuclear installations and undertake safety analyses. It has been acting in support of the NRA for several months already.

Many of JNES's 400 staff are highly experienced and, with cabinet approval given today, will officially join NRA's workforce by March 2014 to take the NRA's total staff close to 1000. Some of the most experienced staff from JNES are expected to take mentoring roles that help existing NRA staff develop their competency.

Applications have been made to restart 14 of the 50 units idled due to a loss of confidence in Japan's nuclear safety arrangements after the Fukushima accident of 2011. The speed that NRA can independently process these applications under its new rules is partially dependent on its manpower.

In August the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan (IEEJ), said applications could take 6-12 months to process. It said that putting 80 regulators on the restarts might result in six reactors operating by April 2014 and 16 units by April 2015. If the number of staff was doubled to 160 then some 28 units could be back in operation by April 2015, said the IEEJ. Although staffing costs would rise by ¥3.2 billion, the country's saving in fossil fuel imports would be ¥850 billion.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News