How to restart a nuclear reactor in Japan after the Fukushima disaster with Dreux Richard

How to restart a nuclear reactor in Japan after the Fukushima disaster with Dreux Richard

Shelly Lesher

In this episode of My Nuclear Life, host Shelly Lesher interviews Dreux Richard, an Investigative Reporter and author of a new book, Every Human Intention: Japan in the New Century. In part of his book, Dreux explores the post-Fukushima nuclear regulatory system of Japan and the safety of restarting nuclear reactors threatened by earthquake  faults. 

They begin the conversation discussing Dreux’s book, which he explains as a fusion of a nonfiction novel, an extended prose poem and investigative journalism. Having spent lots of time observing nuclear reactor operators, Dreux touches on a few of his observations and experience at a power plant in Illinois. Then, he gives examples of regulatory decisions prior to Fukushima that were revisited after the disaster. Without a procedure, Shelly explains, workers in the plant find themselves at a loss for what exactly to do in such a situation.

Next, Shelly asks how nuclear power is owned and operated in Japan. Until a few years ago, power plants were operated by regional electricity monopolies, private companies with no competition. Finally, the market was deregulated, though this scarcely allowed for smaller companies to replace the larger pre existing ones. These regional monopolies began adopting nuclear energy once it was introduced and tested.

Unlike in the U.S., there are no operating licenses for nuclear facilities in Japan. Instead, it was determined that with new leadership and safety mandates, new regulatory agencies were permitted to impose new construction standards that their utilities would have to meet. Much concern lies around proximities of power plants to fault lines. However, the only current decisive factor in determining whether a plant can legally operate is the possibility of a displacement greater than zero directly underneath the building or essential equipment.

A large part of what makes nuclear energy efficient depends on the social circumstances on which it’s run. Additionally, the cost efficiency really can go down in a way that is unrelated to the actual method of generating power. After Fukushima, much of the Japanese population spoke out against nuclear energy. This sentiment has softened somewhat since but is still quite regionally prevalent. It’s difficult to determine whether the rehabilitation of the affected areas will be positive or negative in the long run and much of the displaced wound up living difficult lives in major cities.

In part of his new book Every Human Intention: Japan in the New Century Dreux Richard covers multiple aspects of Japan including Japan’s African community and regulations after the Fukushima disaster. He is an American writer and journalist and is currently a doctorate-by-research candidate at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

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Special thanks to Lexie Weghorn

Production costs for this episode provided though National Science Foundation Grants PHY-1713816  & 2011267.