Japan estimated the nation will get 50 percent of electricity from nuclear power in 2030, compared to 33 percent at present, and Yosano indicated that the plan is not going to change.
In China, under the State Council’s order, power plants and other nuclear facilities that are operational or under construction will be inspected, said Zhou. But the new standards will be imposed only on plants that have either not yet been approved or have not advanced beyond site preparation.
The National Nuclear Safety Administration is a division of the Ministry of Environmental Protection in China, several steps removed from the State Council. On the other hand, the state-owned nuclear power companies — China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group and China National Nuclear Corp. — report directly to the council.
“In a country like China — or more generally in Asia — you have to show respect to people with higher titles,” said Zhou. “That’s why people argue that the NNSA should have a higher level, directly under the State Council, not just a group or division or subdivision under Environmental Protection.”
The elevation of the nuclear safety agency, “making it an independent regulatory body with authority,” was one of several recommendations made in a January 2011 report by the State Council Research Office to keep pace with safety issues in the nuclear industry.
The research office also warned that safety could be compromised by a growing shortage of technical expertise — particularly among regulators because their salaries are not keeping pace with those of workers in the plants.
The challenge to technical inspectors is complicated by the variety of power plant designs China has in operation—with technology imported from France, Canada and Russia and the United States, as well as a domestic nuclear reactor design based largely on the French technology.