TOKYO, March 20 (Kyodo) — Japan's nuclear authority suggested Tuesday it will check Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Oi nuclear power plant, currently the only one with online reactors in the country, according to new safety standards, prior to their introduction in July, to avoid suspension of the plant's operations.
Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, said after a regular meeting at which the NRA compiled a basic policy for the introduction of the reactor safety standards that the Oi plant's No. 3 and 4 reactors in Fukui Prefecture will undergo safety checks possibly in April or later.
If no problems are found with the Oi reactors, the NRA will authorize their continued operation until September, when they have to undergo routine maintenance, Tanaka said.
The NRA may be criticized for giving special treatment to the Oi reactors because applications for safety checks at the 48 reactors that are currently idled will only start in July, when the new standards become effective. Safety checks under the new standards are required for all reactors to resume operation.
The Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at the four-reactor Oi complex were restarted in July and are currently the only ones online among the 50 surviving commercial reactors in Japan, operation of which was suspended amid safety concerns following the nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi power plant triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Tanaka said the NRA thinks that the No. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi plant are able to clear most of the new safety standards, as countermeasures are being taken. "We cannot deny the possibility that the reactors may not fulfill one or two items" under the new standards, but the NRA intends to closely examine them, he said.
Tanaka added that if the NRA were to require online reactors to suspend operation every time the regulatory body comes up with new safety standards, it would hinder efforts to introduce new standards based on the latest findings.
According to the basic policy of the new safety standards, the facilities and equipment of offline reactors will undergo checks in two stages.