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Back to the future: Restarting Japan's nuclear power plants

Applications from utility companies to restart many of Japan's nuclear power plants are now being considered by regulators. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his government have stated their support for these applications, provided regulators find that safety can be assured. As a seismologist who lives in Japan, I find some aspects of this ongoing process to be troubling.

     First, in the three years since the Fukushima Daiichi accident we still haven't fully learned what went wrong or how to avoid the recurrence of similar problems. Tohoku Electric Power allowed full access to an international team of engineers who conducted a walkdown (a detailed inspection) of its Onagawa plant and agreed in advance to allow publication of the conclusions, whether positive or negative (in fact they were positive). In contrast, Tokyo Electric Power, known as Tepco, hasn't provided outside experts with enough access to its plants. Conducting a walkdown at Fukushima Daiichi might be more difficult because of the ongoing efforts to cope with the accident, but this should still have been doable at some point in the past three years, and should also have been done at Fukushima Daini and other Tepco plants.

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