Photo/Illutration Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Despite a contrary assessment by nuclear regulators, a spate of recent security breaches at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant should not be considered endemic to the facility.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority compiled an interim report on its follow-up inspections on the unauthorized use of an employee ID card and disabled intrusion detection equipment at the plant in Niigata Prefecture.

“These problems are not shared by other electric power companies, nor are they common to TEPCO’s other facilities,” the report stated. “They are deemed to be unique to the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.”

The report was based on an examination of documents, inspections of facilities and interviews with personnel at all nuclear power plants operated by TEPCO and other regional utilities.

Granted, it did provide a list of examples to show that Kashiwazaki-Kariwa compares poorly with other nuclear power plants in both setup and facilities for protecting nuclear materials.

But the report did not discuss why this was the case with Kashiwazaki-Kariwa alone or how this potentially disastrous situation could have remained overlooked.

It raises fears of a potential breach that could allow terrorists to seize control of the plant.

In our view, the NRA’s examination of the problems was far from comprehensive.

For instance, the interim report reiterated that practically no on-site inspections of the plant’s department that oversees the physical protection of nuclear materials were undertaken by top executives of the plant or TEPCO’s headquarters.

An earlier in-house survey by an external investigation committee set up by TEPCO revealed that cost-cutting was a priority and management bent over to accommodate the wishes of top executives.

The nature of TEPCO’s overall organization and its management culture still raises many questions.

The report made eight demands of TEPCO. They include: A fundamental review of procedures for the physical protection of nuclear materials; reinforcement of intrusion prevention facilities and their maintenance system; more active use of input from on-site staff; and greater management participation and investment of management resources.

NRA Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa said at a meeting the onus was on TEPCO to prove its equipment and facilities for the physical protection of nuclear materials are fool-proof, even if the company’s corporate culture and attitude are below the line and its employees try to cut corners.

An urgent need exists for a framework to ensure that nuclear materials are protected should human error enter the equation, which obliges TEPCO to rectify its operations.

The company needs to not only meet the NRA’s demands but also go the extra mile to address issues needing attention as a matter of routine.

We also strongly urge the NRA to conduct more rigorous inspections.

Nuclear terrorism would have a catastrophic impact on society. An attack against a nuclear power plant could prove too much for its operator or regulatory authorities to handle alone.

Still, utilities and regulators should expand their fields of vision and ensure through inspections that basic countermeasures, such as preventing illegal intrusion, are thoroughly implemented. 

We take it as a given that countermeasures against terrorist threats are generally kept from the public for security reasons and are implemented only by select personnel.

But it still limits the scope of inspections.

Utilities and the NRA, which have firsthand knowledge of the situation, need to remind themselves anew of their heavy responsibility to stay on top of the situation.

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 4