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Japan announces new nuclear safety tests

By Yoko Wakatsuki, CNN
A machine samples radioactive materials from the air above unit one at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
A machine samples radioactive materials from the air above unit one at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Japan announces new safety checks for nuclear plants
  • Many nuclear plants have been idled for maintenance checks since the March 11 disaster
  • Japan has 54 nuclear reactors, but only 19 are currently operating
  • The tests will be similar to stress tests conducted by the European Union

Tokyo (CNN) -- Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano announced Monday a new round of safety tests for the country's nuclear plants in the government's latest bid to gain the public's confidence.

The development came less than a week after the government made a surprise announcement that it would conduct "stress tests" on all of the country's nuclear plants.

"In addition to the existing mechanism, we have decided to introduce a safety evaluation based on new procedures and rules," Edano said at a news conference.

"There are many suspicious voices over the confirmation of safety by the Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency (NISA) and it is hard to say that we have sufficient understanding by the public," a government statement released Monday said.

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Nuclear plants that have been idled for maintenance checks since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami must first pass the stress tests in order to resume operations.

The first round of stress tests -- computer simulations to evaluate how the facilities would cope in various natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis -- will be conducted on 18 idled nuclear reactors. Japan has 54 nuclear reactors, but only 19 are currently operating.

The second round of assessments will be conducted on all the nuclear plants by their owners to give a more comprehensive evaluation of their resilience to natural disasters.

The results will be reviewed by NISA as well as the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC), an independent committee. The government could suspend nuclear plants currently in operation depending on the assessment results.

The tests will be designed by NISA and NSC, taking into account the similar stress tests conducted by the European Union in the wake of the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

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