Monday, January 25, 2016

IAEA Urges Stronger Nuclear Safety Culture in Japan

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently completed a peer review of Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), a regulatory agency established in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima disaster.  Highlights of the review were discussed at an IAEA press conference.*

The IAEA review team praised the NRA’s progress in various areas, such as demonstrating independence and transparency, and made suggestions and recommendations for further improvement, primarily in the area of NRA staff recruiting and development.

The IAEA team also mentioned safety culture (SC), recommending “the NRA and nuclear licensees ‘continue to strengthen the promotion of safety culture, including by fostering a questioning attitude’.”

Our Perspective

We look forward to the IAEA’s final report which is due in about three months.  We are especially interested in seeing if there is comprehensive discussion and specific direction with respect to “fostering a questioning attitude.”  The Japanese nuclear industry in general and TEPCO (Fukushima’s owner) in particular certainly need to cultivate employees’ willingness to develop and consider open-ended questions such as “what if?” and “what can go wrong?”

More importantly, they also need to instill the necessary backbone to stand up in front of the bosses and ask tough questions and demand straight answers.  Lots of folks probably knew the Fukushima seawall wasn’t high enough and the emergency equipment in the basement was subject to flooding but everyone went along with the program.  That’s what has to change to create a stronger SC.

*  “IAEA praises reform of Japan's nuclear regulator,” World Nuclear News (Jan. 22, 2016).

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