The official report of The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission concluded that “The TEPCO Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and TEPCO, and the lack of governance by said parties. They effectively betrayed the nation’s right to be safe from nuclear accidents. Therefore, we conclude that the accident was clearly ‘manmade.’ We believe that the root causes were the organizational and regulatory systems that supported faulty rationales for decisions and actions, rather than issues relating to the competency of any specific individual.”
This wakeup call for the nuclear power utilities should require a public review of their relationship with of regulators. However, severe accident related risk reduction is a relatively uncharted territory and given the apparent lack of in-house technical expertise, the regulators are heavily relying on the qualitative and ‘hand waving’ arguments being presented by the utilities inherently disinterested in further investments they are not required to make under original license conditions. As a result, it has accelerated further deterioration of the safety culture and emboldened many within the regulatory staff to undertake or support otherwise questionable decisions in support of the utilities that prefer status quo. Case in point is the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) which mostly accepts any and all requests by the nuclear power industry. After Fukushima, the CNSC took a year to publish a set of ‘Action Items’ for the Canadian Nuclear industry to prepare plans over 3 years and then accepted most if not all submissions that in many cases barely addressed the already watered down recommendations. In some cases the solutions proposed by the industry were economically expedient but technically flawed; and some could even be considered dangerous. CNSC also published a study on consequences of a severe accident with a source term that was limited to the desirable safety goal (100 TBq of Cs-137), which coincidently years later matched the utility ‘calculations’, but orders of magnitude smaller than predicted by independent evaluations. As a result, some well publicized conclusions on the benign nature of consequences of a CANDU severe accident were made and the local and provincial agencies that actually are supposed to prepare off-site emergency measures were left with an incorrect picture of what havoc a severe accident can cause otherwise. CNSC then published a much publicized video highlighting the available operator actions to terminate the accident early and later a report outlining the accident progression for a severe accident without operator action with conclusions that were immediately technically suspect from a variety of aspects. The aim was to claim that a severe core damage accident has no unfavorable off-site consequences. The regulator effectively, in this case, comes across as a promoter for the industry it is legislated to regulate. The paper outlines examples of actions being taken by the regulators that hinder development of effective risk reduction measures by the industry which otherwise would be forced to undertake them if the regulators had not stepped on the plate to bat for them. They vary from letters to editors to silence any safety concerns raised by the public, muzzling of its own staff, trying to silence external specialists who question their wisdom on to blatant disregard for any intervention by public they are required to entertain by law but are accustomed to factually ignore or belittle. The paper also outlines a number of examples of actions that an independent regulator would undertake to reduce the risk and enhance the safety culture. The nuclear regulatory regimes work well generally but in cases where it does not, the results can be disastrous as evident from the events in Japan and as is building up in Canada. The paper also summarizes the disparities between the number of Regulatory Actions instituted by the CNSC against small companies that use nuclear substances for industrial applications and almost none actions against the nuclear power plant utilities it regularly grants a pass in spite of the larger risk their operations pose to public.