Asean mem­ber states should ap­ply lessons from Ja­pan and China

New Straits Times - - Opinion -

JA­PAN com­mem­o­rated the sixth an­niver­sary of the Fukushima-Dai­ichi nu­clear dis­as­ter on March 11, 2017. Since the tsunami–trig­gered dis­as­ter, qual­i­fied ob­servers as­sess that the big­gest risk as­so­ci­ated with nu­clear power comes not from the tech­nol­ogy of the in­fras­truc­ture, but from hu­man fac­tors. The Fukushima in­ci­dent must be re­garded as a tech­no­log­i­cal dis­as­ter trig­gered not just by “un­fore­see­able” nat­u­ral haz­ards (earth­quake, tsunami), but also hu­man er­rors.

Com­pre­hen­sive re­ports on Fukushima, in­clud­ing find­ings made by the Ja­panese Par­lia­ment and the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency (IAEA), ex­am­ine how hu­man fac­tors such as the com­pla­cency of op­er­a­tors due to “safety myth”, the ab­sence of reg­u­la­tory in­de­pen­dence from the nu­clear in­dus­try and re­luc­tance to ques­tion author­ity all con­trib­uted to the “ac­ci­dent”. The Fukushima in­ci­dent, like oth­ers be­fore it, ac­cen­tu­ates the ut­most im­por­tance of ad­dress­ing hu­man and or­gan­i­sa­tional fac­tors so as to pre­vent nu­clear ac­ci­dents from oc­cur­ring, or mit­i­gate their con­se­quences if they do oc­cur.

Crit­i­cal to the de­vel­op­ment and wider use of nu­clear tech­nol­ogy in both power and non-power ap­pli­ca­tions is the avail­abil­ity of “soft in­fras­truc­ture”, which in­volves qual­i­fied hu­man re­sources. While both nu­clear safety and nu­clear se­cu­rity con­sider the risk of in­ad­ver­tent hu­man er­ror, nu­clear se­cu­rity places ad­di­tional em­pha­sis on de­lib­er­ate acts that are in­tended to cause harm. The prin­ci­pal shared ob­jec­tive of se­cu­rity cul­ture and safety cul­ture is to con­tain the risk re­sult­ing from nu­clear ma­te­ri­als and as­so­ci­ated fa­cil­i­ties.

This ob­jec­tive is largely based on com­mon prin­ci­ples, e.g. a ques­tion­ing at­ti­tude, and rig­or­ous and pru­dent ap­proaches to pre­vent com­pla­cency. Avoid­ing com­pla­cency is es­sen­tial to en­sur­ing nu­clear safety and se­cu­rity, and can be achieved by in­still­ing a ques­tion­ing at­ti­tude in ev­ery staff — from the op­er­a­tor at a nu­clear re­ac­tor chal­leng­ing a “safety myth” as­sump­tion of his su­pe­ri­ors, to the doc­tor in a can­cer treat­ment cen­tre ques­tion­ing an un­ex­pected change in treat­ment pa­ram­e­ters.

How­ever, de­spite the postFukushima tech­no­log­i­cal im­prove­ments that have been made by the nu­clear in­dus­try, nu­clear safety and se­cu­rity cul­ture among nu­clear op­er­a­tors and reg­u­la­tors still need to be deep­ened. Ma­jor users of nu­clear power in East Asia, for in­stance, have yet to strengthen hu­man and or­gan­i­sa­tional fac­tors that con­trib­ute to safety and se­cu­rity, in­clud­ing the com­plex­ity of the in­ter­re­la­tion­ships be­tween them.

China’s National Nu­clear Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion, in Oc­to­ber last year, made public 16 safety fail­ures that oc­curred in China’s nu­clear plants dur­ing the year, all in­volv­ing breach of op­er­a­tional guide­lines and mis­takes made by power plant staff mem­bers, al­though the in­ci­dents did not re­sult in a ra­dioac­tive leak, sab­o­tage, or pose a di­rect public safety and se­cu­rity threat.

Mean­while, ac­cord­ing to the IAEA’s In­te­grated Reg­u­la­tory Re­view Ser­vice to Ja­pan’s Nu­clear Reg­u­la­tion Agency (NRA), the ques­tion­ing at­ti­tude of the NRA staff is still lack­ing, which serves as a stum­bling block to strength­en­ing safety cul­ture in Ja­pan’s nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties de­spite the lessons de­rived from the causes of the Fukushima ac­ci­dent. The IAEA re­port rec­om­mends that the train­ing for in­spec­tors should take a holis­tic ap­proach and in­clude the de­vel­op­ment of a ques­tion­ing at­ti­tude.

The ris­ing nu­clear safety con­cerns in China, par­tic­u­larly over hu­man fac­tors, have im­pli­ca­tions for the re­gion. While there are no nu­clear plants cur­rently in South­east Asia, a nu­clear dis­as­ter in China may still af­fect the re­gion in light of Chi­nese nu­clear power plants lo­cated near Viet­nam and pos­si­ble fu­ture de­ploy­ment of off­shore re­ac­tors in the South China Sea. The can­cel­la­tion of Viet­nam’s Ninh Thuan Nu­clear Power Plant project should not stall the re­gional ef­forts to build joint nu­clear emer­gency pre­pared­ness and re­sponse in Asean.

Viet­nam and the rest of South­east Asia should stay vig­i­lant and be pre­pared for a nu­clear in­ci­dent near the re­gion’s bor­ders. Three Chi­nese nu­clear sta­tions are lo­cated near the Viet­namese border and one of them, Yang jiang Nu­clear Power Sta­tion in Guang­dong, has recorded an op­er­a­tional blun­der and sub­se­quent cover-up at­tempt by op­er­a­tors in 2015.

North­east Asian states have been viewed as key nu­clear ven­dors, while South­east Asia is seen as a po­ten­tial mar­ket for nu­clear tech­nol­ogy. While Viet­nam has can­celled its nu­clear power plant project, nu­clear plans in Malaysia, In­done­sia, the Philip­pines and Thai­land re­main in place while await­ing their national de­ci­sions. As China has em­barked on rapid nu­clear power de­vel­op­ment, with 36 nu­clear power re­ac­tors in op­er­a­tion, 21 un­der con­struc­tion and more about to start con­struc­tion, it has also been pro­mot­ing its nu­clear tech­nol­ogy over­seas, in­clud­ing in South­east Asia.

For in­stance, China Gen­eral Nu­clear Power Corp (CGN), which owns and op­er­ates the Yangjiang Nu­clear Power Sta­tion, has al­ready set up a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of­fice in Thai­land and its re­gional head­quar­ters for South­east Asia in Malaysia to en­hance its co­op­er­a­tion on nu­clear power with Asean mem­ber states. Since 2015, CGN has been co-or­gan­is­ing, to­gether with Asean Cen­tre for En­ergy, the Asean-China Ca­pac­ity-Build­ing on Civil­ian Nu­clear En­ergy Work­shop. Through the an­nual ca­pac­ity-build­ing work­shop, CGN works with Asean to carry out nu­clear tech­ni­cal train­ing with the ob­jec­tive of shar­ing CGN’s ex­pe­ri­ence in de­vel­op­ing nu­clear en­ergy.

Like China, Ja­pan has also been pro­mot­ing its nu­clear re­ac­tor tech­nol­ogy to South­east Asia and was sup­posed to build Viet­nam’s sec­ond nu­clear power plant by 2030 prior to Hanoi’s de­ci­sion to scrap its nu­clear power plant projects. Ja­pan’s


...de­spite the postFukushima tech­no­log­i­cal im­prove­ments that have been made by the nu­clear in­dus­try, nu­clear safety and se­cu­rity cul­ture among nu­clear op­er­a­tors and reg­u­la­tors still need to be deep­ened.

nu­clear agen­cies, such as the Ja­pan Atomic En­ergy Agency and Ja­pan Atomic En­ergy Com­mis­sion, have been pro­vid­ing ro­bust tech­ni­cal train­ing as­sis­tance to the Philip­pines, Malaysia, Viet­nam, In­done­sia and Thai­land in im­prov­ing their ca­pac­ity to en­hance nu­clear safety and se­cu­rity.

To make the Asean’s ca­pac­i­ty­build­ing co­op­er­a­tion with China and Ja­pan more com­pre­hen­sive, it is in­deed im­por­tant to com­ple­ment tech­ni­cal train­ing on nu­clear en­ergy with hu­man re­source de­vel­op­ment, es­pe­cially hu­man and or­gan­i­sa­tional fac­tors in nu­clear safety and se­cu­rity, based on key lessons from North­east Asian nu­clear in­dus­try. While there are no nu­clear power plants yet in South­east Asia, ra­dioac­tive sources are al­ready be­ing widely used in in­dus­trial fac­to­ries, re­search re­ac­tors, uni­ver­si­ties and hos­pi­tals in the re­gion.

It is there­fore cru­cial to in­clude hu­man fac­tors in the joint ac­tiv­i­ties, tech­ni­cal work­shops and meet­ings of the Asean Net­work of Reg­u­la­tory Bod­ies on Atomic En­ergy and the Asean Nu­clear En­ergy Co­op­er­a­tion Sub-sec­tor Net­work. With the trans­bound­ary risks of nu­clear ac­ci­dents or stolen ra­dioac­tive sources ever present, it is in­deed ur­gent for Asean mem­ber states to ap­ply the lessons from Ja­pan and China by col­lec­tively build­ing the nec­es­sary skills and mind­set that will dis­cour­age com­pla­cency and pro­mote a ques­tion­ing at­ti­tude in us­ing nu­clear en­ergy.

The writer is Associate Re­search Fel­low with the Nu­clear En­ergy Stud­ies Pro­gramme at the Cen­tre for Non-Tra­di­tional Se­cu­rity (NTS) Stud­ies, S. Ra­jarat­nam School of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies (RSIS), Nanyang Tech­no­log­i­cal Univer­sity, Sin­ga­pore


The Fukushima-Dai­ichi nu­clear dis­as­ter ac­cen­tu­ates the ut­most im­por­tance of ad­dress­ing hu­man and or­gan­i­sa­tional fac­tors so as to pre­vent nu­clear ac­ci­dents from oc­cur­ring.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.