VIENNA, Feb 1 (Reuters) - U.N. inspectors have found no significant damage to safety equipment inside an earthquake-hit Japanese nuclear plant, the world’s largest, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Friday. But the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactor, shut down by Tokyo Electric Power Co (9501.T) after the July 16 quake, will still remain closed longer than expected, at least until the second quarter of 2009, analysts and market sources say.
They noted a rash of safety scandals in Japan’s nuclear sector in the five years before the quake that raised sensitivity over security standards in an industry providing some 30 percent of electricity to the world’s third largest consumer of energy. In a statement, the Vienna-based IAEA said an agency fact-finding team managed last month to examine key internal safety components at the plant that were inaccessible for an initial IAEA mission last August.
“The first objective of the team has been to confirm that there appears to be no significant damage to the integrity of the plant,” said Philippe Jamet, who headed both IAEA missions.
“The mission concluded that significant data about the earthquake has been gathered and efforts to obtain remaining information are under way. Overall interpretation of all the data will still be necessary to reach a full understanding of the earthquake and assess the possibility of future ones.”
The statement said Jamet’s delegation had three days of “open and constructive discussions” with Japanese nuclear regulators, plant operators and other experts.
His team recommended international cooperation to expand on continuing Japanese inquiries since the incident and help adjust international nuclear safety standards where appropriate.
The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa complex, built between 1985 and 1997 atop geological fault lines that were deemed stable, was hit last July by a quake of 6.8 magnitude, exceeding the worst seismic impact the plant had been designed to withstand.
“The earthquake caused fractures on the surface of the site ... Geologists are investigating if (these) correspond to deeper faults. The team observed one fault during its site visit and was able to conclude that it was stable,” the IAEA said.
“Confirmation of the stability of others is under way.”
Japanese authorities had significantly improved fire safety standards at the plant in the past few months, it added.
The plant was shut down safely during the quake. The reactor leaked some radiation but this was below the maximum permitted under public health and environmental rules.
Reporting by Mark Heinrich