Nuclear power is safer, more resilient and better prepared today for extreme events than ever before. In Japan, perhaps more than in any other country, huge investments have been made to ensure that nuclear power plants can operate safely in a range of conditions, such as in the case of an unexpected event, following the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident.
Regulators have a key role in implementing safety improvements, in particular the lessons learnt from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident. By effectively overseeing safety rules, they can create greater trust in the technology and facilitate the transfer of knowledge to future generations. This will be fundamental if nuclear energy is to grow and contribute more to the global clean energy transition.
To foster these developments, the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) and Japan Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) held a joint International Conference on Regulators’ Views and Priorities on Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection 10 Years After TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi NPS Accident on 28-29 November 2022 in Tokyo, Japan.
This event gathered regulators from eight countries along with other sector stakeholders to examine the current situation, measure the progress made and anticipate the best path forward for all.
The 200 participants were welcomed with opening remarks by NRA Chairman Shinsuke Yamanaka, NEA Director-General William D. Magwood, IV, and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Deputy Director General Lydie Evrard.
“We have learnt a lot since the accident and regulators and operators around the world have worked very hard to incorporate those lessons into action at nuclear facilities all over the world,” said Director-General Magwood during the event’s press conference in Tokyo.
“A lot of hard work has happened over the last 12 years and we’re very pleased to see how much the NRA has progressed. But this is not simply a Japanese experience. This is an experience which has been shared globally. Regulators all around the world have changed the way that they look at nuclear facilities, changed the way that they train people, and changed the regulations to accommodate for the lessons that were learnt in the aftermath of the accident,” Director-General Magwood added.
NEA Director-General Magwood welcomed participants in Tokyo alongside NRA Chairman Yamanaka.
NRA Chairman Shinsuke Yamanaka highlighted the important policy frameworks which have been a priority for the organisation since his appointment from Commissioner to Chairman in September 2022: “communication and dialogue, placing importance on what is happening in the field, and human resources development.”
“Since I became a commissioner at the NRA 5 years ago, I have been involved in the inspection or checking of the nuclear facilities for the restarts based on the new regulations,” said Chairman Yamanaka.
“During this conference, we would like to reflect on the NRA’s work over the past decade. We hope to learn a lot from this conference as the environment surrounding nuclear energy is greatly transforming,” he added.
Panel discussions addressed the evolution of regulatory frameworks since the Fukushima Daiichi accident; the need to reassess natural hazards and radiological protection in emergencies; how to establish trust and transparency with the public and stakeholders through effective communication; and the importance of gender balance in the nuclear sector.
NRA Chairman Yamanaka addresses the audience at the International Regulators' Conference in Tokyo.
The conference looked at the vast progress that regulators have made in Japan, a point echoed by NEA Director-General Magwood.
“When the NRA was formed, I was sceptical that it would be possible to implement new regulations as quickly as people in Japan were hoping for. But the NRA proved to be up to the task and approved new regulations in an extremely quick fashion,” said Director-General Magwood.
Participants were also updated on the progress achieved at the Fukushima Daiichi site. A technical visit to the site before the conference, organised by the NRA and TEPCO, allowed participants to see the strides that have been made in its decommissioning.
By the end of the conference, the panellists had identified several areas for improvement in the nuclear sector overall. But they noted how the co-ordinated international response to the Fukushima Daiichi accident had demonstrated that the global system of regulators and stakeholders is able to work efficiently to make nuclear energy safer and more resilient.
A technical visit to the site before the conference, organised by the NRA and TEPCO, allowed participants to see the progress of decommissioning at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
As noted by Director-General Magwood, this will pave the way for nuclear energy to play a more prominent role in the clean energy transition and contribute to the mitigation of climate change:
“It is certainly my view that nuclear energy is poised to take a large role in helping countries meet the drive to net zero carbon emissions. There are many challenges ahead, but I think that the world’s regulators are up to the challenge and are prepared to go forward.”