TOKYO -- Decommissioning efforts following the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station have been hit by delays and a series of mistakes contravening safety rules relating to the operation of nuclear facilities.
In response to the issues, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) is carrying out a survey into whether operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) has sufficient staffing numbers working on the project, and is seeking to have TEPCO's board improve its preparations.
According to the secretariat of the NRA, this summer there were errors in the wiring of electrical cables to the No. 5 and 6 reactors, which caused problems when smoke started to emerge from equipment attached to the reactors.
Furthermore, drinking facilities are being continually installed in controlled zones with high levels of radioactivity where they are forbidden from being built, and it has emerged that workers have drunk water from those areas. In October, the NRA identified both incidents as contravening safety regulations.
Elsewhere, the continuation of work to remove spent nuclear fuel from storage pools at the No. 3 reactor has been delayed. NRA Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa said, "It appears the absolute number of such workers (who manage the work at the power station) is insufficient. If small mistakes continue, it creates the danger of leading to big mistakes."
Ryusuke Kobayashi, head of the Fukushima Daiichi NRA Regional Office, attended a regular meeting of the NRA on Nov. 6. Regarding the situation at the power station, he said, "There's a strong focus on cost-cutting at the site. It has an atmosphere which makes it difficult to speak out and say there are too few people working there." At a press conference after the meeting, chairman Fuketa stressed that it was essential for more staff to be secured.
In response to the NRA, a representative at TEPCO said, "It's believed an easing of vigilance at the site has been one reason (for the mistakes). The number of human errors has stayed at between 100 and 200 each year for the last five years. We want to proceed with a plan to resolve this considering the specific characteristics of the working environment at the site."
(Japanese original by Yuka Saito and Suzuko Araki, Science & Environment News Department)