Japanese Cabinet OKs bill to cap nuclear-reactor life

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Last week, a 10-member IAEA delegation inspected the Ohi No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at a nuclear plant in Fukui prefecture, a rural area where 13 reactors are clustered around a bay. The reactors have undergone stress tests, which are supposed to assess whether they can withstand earthquakes, tsunamis, loss of power or other emergencies, and to suggest changes to improve safety.

The IAEA team was invited by Tokyo to visit the plant in a step seen as an attempt to drum up support for the government’s safety campaign.

In a preliminary assessment Tuesday, the team said that Japanese nuclear safety officials’ instructions to their operator, Kansai Electric Power Co., and the review process for the tests were “generally consistent” with IAEA safety standards.

However, the team said authorities should clarify the goals of the stress tests and better define what constitutes the safety margins within which plants would be able to tolerate disasters. It also said the nuclear safety agency, or NISA, still needs to confirm certain improvements to safety before allowing the facility to resume operation.

Mission leader James Lyons said that the team was “satisfied with the work they had done as part of their primary assessment” but that there was room for improvement.

NISA chief Hiroyuki Fukano welcomed the IAEA review, saying authorities were “encouraged” that stress tests were deemed valid.

Critics, however, say the tests are meaningless because they have no clear criteria, and they view the IAEA as biased toward the nuclear industry.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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