Japan's Tepco needs safety review from foreign nuclear operators: Adviser

TOKYO - Tokyo Electric Power Co should convene a panel of nuclear power plant operators from outside Japan to review its safety standards even if it obtains clearance by regulators to restart the world's largest nuclear plant, an adviser to the utility said on Tuesday.

Dale Klein, a former chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the chairman of a third-party panel commissioned by Tokyo Electric to oversee the reform of its nuclear division, said such a step would provide additional assurance that the utility could be trusted to run a nuclear plant safely after the March 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant.

Klein, who was in Tokyo for a meeting of Tokyo Electric's nuclear reform panel, said representatives of US nuclear operators such as Southern Co, Exelon Corp and Pinnacle West Capital Corp's Arizona Public Service subsidiary could be sent in as advisers to Tepco.

"I would like to see what I call a readiness review," Klein told Reuters in an interview.

"You've got regulatory aspects - Do you meet everything? Do you have right training? - and then, I think, because of Fukushima Dai-Ichi, the Japanese public would feel better if another group came in and said operationally they are ready. I have been pushing for that."

Tokyo Electric, widely known as Tepco, has applied to Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority to restart its Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant, some 300 km (180 miles) northwest of Tokyo.

But the prospects for a restart remain uncertain, in part becaue of opposition from Niigata Prefecture Governor Hirohiko Izumida, a strident critic of Tepco and its response to the Fukushima disaster.

Klein said he believed Tokyo Electric was making progress in developing a culture of safety, modelled on the manufacturing controls pioneered by Japanese companies such as Toyota Motor Co to ensure quality in production. He said completing that process could take years. "It's going slower than I would like," he said.

Klein said he had asked Tepco executives to brief his reform panel early next year on progress it has made to ensure workers involved in the clean-up of the Fukushima plant are being properly employed by subcontractors and protected from radiation hazards.

Klein, who was NRC chairman from 2006 to 2009, also serves on the board of Phoenix-based Pinnacle West.