Japan nuclear watchdog says safety culture not good enough after documents falsified

A fuel rod is inserted into a reactor vessel (right) inside the No. 1 reactor building at Kyushu Electric Power's Sendai nuclear power station in Satsumasendai, Kagoshima prefecture, Japan, on July 8, 2015.
A fuel rod is inserted into a reactor vessel (right) inside the No. 1 reactor building at Kyushu Electric Power's Sendai nuclear power station in Satsumasendai, Kagoshima prefecture, Japan, on July 8, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan's atomic regulator on Wednesday said falsified documents at Chugoku Electric Power Co Inc related to radioactive waste showed the country's nuclear industry still lags on safety more than four years after the Fukushima plant meltdown.

Chugoku Electric on June 30 said it had not conducted the mandatory inspection of equipment for handling low-level nuclear waste, yet had recorded that the checks were carried out.

"From a safety culture point of view, if that kind of thing happens, it's not good enough," Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) head Shunichi Tanaka said at a regular press conference on Wednesday, when asked about the incident by Reuters.

"It is not a violation under law, so I don't think we would take legal action," Tanaka said.

Tokyo Electric Power Co Inc's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, north of Tokyo, suffered a meltdown in March 2011 after an earthquake and tsunami. Investigations into the fumbled response concluded close relations between nuclear power companies and regulators led to poor industry oversight.

The NRA, set up in 2012, has since been pushing operators to improve safety and the mindset of personnel, while all nuclear reactors have been shut down while utilities apply for new operating licenses.

The NRA is continuing to review the No. 2 reactor at Chugoku Electric's sole Shimane nuclear plant for relicencing despite the falsification of documents, an NRA official said, when contacted by Reuters.

Chugoku Electric President Tomohide Karita expects the incident may make it harder to gain the consent of local residents to eventually restart the nuclear plant, a Chugoku spokesman told Reuters on Wednesday.

The utility has set up a team to investigate the matter and establish measures to prevent a recurrence, the company said in a statement on Thursday.

Utilities that belong to the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan and which operate nuclear reactors have made checks and confirmed there were no similar cases, said an official at the federation.