Abu Dhabi ‘has learnt lessons from Fukushima’

Originally published at https://www.thenational.ae/uae

Barbara, Lady Judge, says Abu Dhabi has been wise to seek so much outside experience in designing its nuclear programme. Sammy Dallal / The National
Barbara, Lady Judge, says Abu Dhabi has been wise to seek so much outside experience in designing its nuclear programme. Sammy Dallal / The National

ABU DHABI // Three years after the tsunami in Japan caused a nuclear accident, the former head of the UK Atomic Energy Authority says countries are increasing the safety of their power plants.

On a visit to the UAE for an international nuclear advisory board meeting Barbara, Lady Judge, said plans were being drawn up to be able to cope with “any possible scenario”.

“There are a number of things that went wrong in Fukushima,” Lady Judge said in Abu Dhabi on Monday. “There wasn’t a crisis plan if something unexpected were to happen.

“Japanese culture is one of consideration by the group and they didn’t have one person on the spot that was in power to make the decision. But there were lots of lessons that we learnt and the whole nuclear industry will benefit from them.”

She said Japan was now one of many countries that had set up a crisis plan.

Lady Judge, deputy chairman of the nuclear reform monitoring committee of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), helped to set up the Nuclear Safety Oversight Office in Japan last July and operations started last month.

“The Japanese had a culture of efficiency – that is keep going as fast as you can and get the most power out,” she said.

“Now, we want them to have an arm in charge of helping to put in a culture of safety, which means if you see anything that’s not going quite right stop, take a look and see what’s going on.”

The office includes a subsidiary for decommissioning and one for the power plant operations.

“We separated them because they’re not the same skills,” Lady Judge said. “We’ve also learnt that the job of nuclear safety officers is to think up the worst possible scenarios and protect against them.

“In Fukushima, they didn’t think there would be a tsunami this high so they didn’t protect against it.”

The new job, which works in partnership with operations, entails thinking about all the conceivable safety threats.

“We’ve used all the safety learnings from Fukushima to upgrade the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plants, which are the ones that had applied to be restarted,” Lady Judge said. “We’ve created all the imaginable scenarios and protected against them.”

She commended Abu Dhabi’s work on its nuclear programme.

“There are a lot of people outside any country who can help because they see things differently,” Lady Judge said. “That’s what Abu Dhabi’s done so well and I think the UAE’s nuclear programme will be the highest in best safety standards.”

She said bringing in international experts was crucial.

“I think Abu Dhabi has looked for and tried to get the best people to come in, and either work here or advise on the programme,” Lady Judge said.

“At the moment, operations of building two power plants in France and Finland are behind budget and time, so Abu Dhabi’s got a lot at stake in making this the best.”

But she said public acceptance remained a major challenge.

“I believe that every country needs an energy mix and nuclear should be a part of the mix,” Lady Judge said. “I always say we need a bouquet of energy sources – oil, gas, renewables and nuclear.

“Nuclear really answers the question of energy security, energy independence and climate change. It doesn’t emit carbon, it’s clean, reliable and, although it has a large upfront cost to build, it’s very straightforward and a source of long-term energy.”

After her meeting with the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation and others related to the UAE’s nuclear project, a report will be drafted for recommendations.

“The purpose is to get updated on the project, to ask questions and to give advice,” Lady Judge said. “It makes the project very open and transparent and feel that the public is invited into the boardroom and see what’s happening.

“After any accident, safety standards go up and people worry about details, but the whole world will take the lessons from Fukushima and include them.”