Tokyo—Japan’s prime minister said Tuesday that Japanese nuclear plants need to increase anti-terrorism measures, a major weak spot found in the wake of the Fukushima disasters.
Shinzo Abe acknowledged at a parliamentary session that an investigation into the tsunami-hit Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant revealed an overall lack of security. Abe said the government has instructed nuclear operators to upgrade security measures to match international standards, and police have since replaced private security guards to provide 24-hour watch around nuclear facilities.
Tokyo had dismissed U.S. recommendations to strengthen severe accident measures at nuclear plants in case of a Sept. 11-style attack, saying the chances of such attacks on Japan were extremely low.
During Tuesday’s lower house budget committee meeting, Abe said that security measures around Japanese nuclear plants were thin and limited to reactor areas. Until recently, Japanese nuclear power plants were guarded by unarmed private security guards, who had to call police in case of a security threat. Even now, defence troops are expected only when there is a missile attack or other serious threat, and their emergency drill with the coast guard was held for the first time in October, said Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera.
Abe said that is not enough.
“In order to ensure safety at nuclear power plants, it is extremely important to acquire an ability to respond to risks such as terrorist attacks,” Abe said. “We are aware of the problems, and will do our utmost to improve the security around nuclear plants in the meantime.”
Abe also reiterated Tuesday his plans to resume reactors that are approved by regulators under new safety standards, expected to take effect in mid-July. Abe, however, has said he was scrapping the previous government’s plan to phase out nuclear by the 2030s. He said the government will compile Japan’s best energy mix within 10 years while putting on hold a decision on what to do with nuclear energy.
Regulators are working to beef up anti-terrorism measures at the plants as they try to finalize new, stricter safety requirements for operators and emergency measures for nearby communities.
Following the Fukushima meltdowns after the massive earthquake and tsunami two years ago, Japanese officials admitted they should have paid more attention to Washington’s suggestions. The crucial elements Washington cited in its guidelines, known as B.5.b —cooling systems, spent fuel pools, backup power—were the ones worst hit at Fukushima Dai-ichi.
Japanese officials said they dismissed them because they thought Japan didn’t face a significant terrorist threat and never thought of using them to improve safety.
Plant operators have boasted that their plants can survive a plane crashing into them and that their facilities are guarded by high-tech monitoring cameras, but the only nuclear facility with reinforced concrete walls that can withstand a missile attack is a fuel reprocessing plant under construction at Rokkasho in northern Japan, officials say.
Japan also faced criticism for lax identification for nuclear plant workers. During the height of nuclear crisis, Fukushima Dai-ichi’s operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. revealed they failed to track down several workers when the company tried to contact them that they needed to take health checks.
After the 9-11 attacks, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a number of directives to the domestic nuclear industry based on a review of what might happen if an airliner hijacked by terrorists was crashed into an atomic plant. NRC has also upgraded its measures to take into account a wider variety of challenges based on the Fukushima disasters.