[ RadSafe ] [Nuclear News] Nuclear power's 'green' credentials under fire

Sandy Perle sandyfl at cox.net
Thu Dec 13 09:37:15 CST 2007


Nuclear power's 'green' credentials under fire
How risky is the new era of nuclear power? 
Nuclear shutdown causing political meltdown in Ottawa
Russia and Iran agree nuclear power station timetable 
Japan Nuclear Energy Drive Compromised by Conflicts of Interest 
Report: Total Chief Wants to Become a Nuclear Power Supplier 

Nuclear power's 'green' credentials under fire

SINGAPORE - Nuclear power's claim to be the answer to global warming 
is being questioned by reports suggesting mining and processing of 
uranium is carbon intensive.
While nuclear power produces only one 50th of the carbon produced by 
many fossil fuels, its carbon footprint is rising, making wind power 
and other renewable energies increasingly attractive, according to 
environmental groups and some official reports.

The nuclear industry has come under fire over safety concerns for 
decades, but a growing recognition of the threat of climate change 
has put a renewed focus on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions 
produced throughout the energy chain.

"Nuclear is a climate change red herring," said Ben Ayliffe, Senior 
Climate and Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace.

"There are safer, more reliable alternatives, like energy efficiency 
and renewables as part of a super-efficient decentralised energy 

While the earth's crust still has large resources of uranium - 600 
times more than gold - much of the highest grade ore bodies are 
already being exploited, forcing miners to develop more technically 
challenging or lower grade resources.

That means uranium mining requires much more energy.

One example is Cameco's Cigar Lake project in Saskatchewan, which has 
been plagued with setbacks caused by floods at the underground mine, 
which may one day supply over 10 per cent of the world's mined 

The problems have forced Cameco to push back the production start to 
2011 from 2007, and analysts this week said further delays out to 
2012 or 2013 were likely.

"The potential is that nuclear will increase its carbon footprint due 
to the lower grade ores that remain," Tony Juniper of Friends of the 
Earth said on the sidelines of a UN climate change conference in 

The carbon cost at Rio Tinto's Ranger uranium mine Australia has also 

The mine produced 17,7 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per tonne 
of uranium oxide in 2006, from 13 tonnes in 2005, a Rio Tinto 
spokeswoman said.

She added that part of the rise was due to bad weather which 
restricted access to high grade ore, as well as an expansion in 
capacity, and the company was trying to reduce emissions again.

Uranium output at the mine was 4 748 tonnes last year, resulting in 
around 84 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Rio produced some 28,3 million tonnes of carbon across its business.

Despite these industry figures, Clarence Hardy, secretary of the 
Australia Nuclear Association and president of the Pacific Nuclear 
Council, says the environmental groups are wrong in their assumptions 
and that nuclear power is relatively clean.

"Carbon dioxide emissions from the nuclear cycle are very low.

They are not zero, but they are low compared to fossil fuels and they 
are even low compared to hydro," he said.

URGENT SOLUTIONS Over the life of a nuclear power plant, carbon 
emissions are between 10 and 25 grams of C02 per kilowatt, as little 
as one 100th of that of a coal-fired plant, Hardy added.

"Even wind and solar have higher C02 emissions than the entire 
nuclear fuel cycle from mining through to waste management," Hardy 
said, arguing that large volumes of steel and concrete - both energy-
intensive products - were required for those products.

But UK data paints a different picture.

A UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology document on 
carbon emissions puts nuclear's footprint was around five grams of 
CO2 per kilowatt, similar to the figure for offshore wind power at 
5,25 grams and above onshore wind at 4,64 grams.

Scientists at the conference in Bali said the world needed urgent 
solutions and emissions needed to peak within the next 10 to 15 

But building a nuclear reactor typically takes decades.

"Even if we started scaling up nuclear power tomorrow we couldn't do 
that because it would take longer than that to get a serious impact 
from new reactors," Juniper said.

"The real answer is more renewable, sustainable energy and greater 
energy efficiency."

How risky is the new era of nuclear power? 
USA Today (AP) Dec 13 - The Salem, N.J., nuclear plant was shut down 
for a time in the '90s. A government report says regulators were slow 
to act on safety problems there. 
Nearly two years ago, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave the 
operator of the Indian Point nuclear plant a year to add backup power 
supplies to the plant's emergency warning sirens. Entergy paid a 
$130,000 government fine in April - but still hasn't done the work at 
the plant 24 miles north of New York City.
At the Peach Bottom nuclear plant south of Harrisburg, Pa., security 
guards often took 15-minute "power naps," according to a letter from 
a former security manager to the NRC last March. The NRC began 
investigating after CBS News aired video of the dozing guards in 
early September.

Neither of the incidents amounted to an "immediate" safety risk, the 
NRC says. But they - and hundreds of other seemingly minor episodes 
at nuclear power plants in recent years - are drawing increased 
scrutiny as the USA prepares to launch a new generation of nuclear 

NUCLEAR SAFETY PROBLEMS: A sampling since theThree Mile Island 

Power companies are beginning to file applications to build up to 32 
nuclear plants over the next 20 years, the first since the 1979 
accident at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania halted plans 
for new reactors and led to sweeping changes in safety regulations. 
It's partly a reflection of how, amid concerns about climate change, 
communities have become more open to nuclear power as a cleaner 
alternative to pollution-belching coal-fired plants.

FIND MORE STORIES IN: Nuclear Regulatory Commission | SALEM | Three 
Mile Island | Nuclear Energy | David Lochbaum 
Critics and advocates of nuclear power generally agree that 
improvements in equipment and employee training have helped to make 
nuclear plants safer since the partial meltdown of a reactor at Three 
Mile Island.

Watchdog groups, however, say that unless nuclear safety and security 
improve, the USA's expansion of its nuclear power industry - which 
now involves 104 reactors that supply about 20% of the nation's 
electricity - could pose risks to nearby communities. 

"Serious safety problems" plague U.S. nuclear plants because the NRC 
isn't adequately enforcing its standards and has cut back on 
inspections, according to a report released Tuesday by the Union of 
Concerned Scientists (UCS), a nuclear safety watchdog group.

The report also says that even though security at nuclear plants was 
increased after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, reactors still aren't 
sufficiently protected against terrorist threats such as hijacked 
jets, and new reactors aren't being designed to be significantly 
safer than existing ones. Increasing the number of reactors without 
creating "unacceptably high safety and security risks" could be 
difficult, the report concludes.

There has been no meltdown of a reactor in the USA since the incident 
at Three Mile Island, which led to no deaths or identifiable injuries 
from radiation exposure but resulted in the release of some radiation 
from the plant. 

However, since 1979, U.S. nuclear plants have had to shut down 46 
times for a year or more, in most cases to fix equipment problems 
that accumulated over time and that regulators should have ordered 
repaired earlier, according to the UCS, which compiled the data from 
the NRC and other research. And the number of equipment failings that 
increase the risk of an accident is up since 2001, compared with the 
previous five-year period, NRC figures show. 

The UCS says incidents such as occasional failures of pumps that cool 
the nuclear reactor core in an emergency eventually could prove 
disastrous if they coincide with other low-probability events, such 
as coolant leakages from the core. 

"The track record on existing reactors leaves much to be desired, and 
until you fix that problem, it's going to carry over to new 
reactors," says David Lochbaum, director of UCS' nuclear safety 

The NRC and the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the industry's trade 
group, say just one incident since Three Mile Island - a water leak 
at the Davis-Besse plant in Ohio in 2002 - has come close to 
threatening communities near any plant.

The NRC says that in the episode involving the sleeping guards at 
Peach Bottom, it didn't act sooner because it couldn't substantiate 
the claims with Exelon (EXC), the plant's operator. At Indian Point, 
Entergy (ETR) says its plan to install backup power for the sirens 
has been delayed by technical hurdles and the need to get permits 
from dozens of towns, counties and state offices.

A 'reliable fleet of reactors' 

Nuclear reactors generate heat that produces electricity when uranium 
atoms split. In the reactor core, uranium is kept in water to prevent 
it from overheating, melting down and releasing radiation.

A meltdown by itself typically would not be disastrous because the 
reactor sits in a concrete containment structure to prevent radiation 
from escaping.

However, a meltdown could cause a buildup of temperature and pressure 
that ruptures the containment building. A massive release of 
radioactive gas into a surrounding community could destroy or damage 
human cells and cause death or cancer.

That's what happened at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the former 
Soviet Union in 1986. The world's worst nuclear plant disaster 
involved a meltdown and an explosion that killed 56 people. At least 
an additional 4,000 are projected to die from cancer because of 
exposure to radiation. 

In the accident at Three Mile Island seven years earlier, water 
cooling the core in one of the plant's two reactors leaked through a 
partly open valve. The valve was closed enough to prevent an alarm 
from sounding. Half the core melted, but the containment building 
stopped all but a small amount of radiation from seeping into the 

The incident led the U.S. government to require upgrades in piping, 
valves and other equipment at all nuclear plants, and NRC inspections 
were increased.

Today, "The U.S. operates not only the biggest but probably the 
safest and most reliable fleet of reactors," says NEI Senior Vice 
President Marvin Fertel.

UCS' Lochbaum counters that the 46 reactor shutdowns during the past 
three decades indicate there has been a buildup of multiple problems 
that regulators should have caught sooner.

In 1995, for example, Public Service Electric & Gas had to close its 
Salem plant in New Jersey for three years until 43 equipment problems 
were fixed, including a broken fan that kept safety gear from 

A Government Accountability Office report said the NRC knew about 38 
of the flaws - in two cases for more than six years - and that its 
"lack of more aggressive action" compounded the plant's problems.

Plants inspected less frequently 

In the most serious episode involving a U.S. nuclear plant since 
Three Mile Island, the Davis-Besse plant in Ohio was shut down from 
2002 to 2004 after the NRC failed to spot what it acknowledges were 
early signs of trouble. 

An acid leak through the reactor vessel's lid left a quarter-inch-
thick steel veneer, according to NRC reports. Because emergency pumps 
also were faulty, core-cooling water leaking through the ruptured lid 
could have led to a meltdown.

The NRC identified the leak in fall 2001 but let the plant keep 
operating. An NRC Inspector General's report in 2002 found the 
agency's willingness to keep the plant running "was driven in large 
part by a desire to lessen the financial impact on (plant operator 
FirstEnergy) that would result from an early shutdown."

In a statement last month, the NRC blamed FirstEnergy (FE) for 
providing "inaccurate and misleading information," including its 
"explanation of the leak."

FirstEnergy says it has made extensive staffing and procedural 
changes to prevent such situations in the future. 

Stuart Richards, deputy director of the NRC's inspection unit, says 
such shutdowns show "that if the NRC feels plants shouldn't be 
operating, we'll take appropriate actions." 

Richards notes that Davis-Besse was the last plant to be shuttered 
for at least a year and that similar safety problems have decreased. 
Plants were shut down an average of 1.5% of the time because of 
safety lapses in 2006, down from 10% in 1997, NRC figures show. 

NRC credits a more precise oversight system, launched in 2000, that 
increases inspections at poorly performing plants. However, one key 
safety measure - of problems that the NRC says increase the annual 
risk of a meltdown from an average of 1 in 17,000 to up to 1 in 1,000 
- has doubled the past six years to an average of 18 a year.

There have been 337 such "precursors" since 1988, including failures 
of pumps that supply water to reactors in a crisis, the NRC says. 
Each plant's emergency cooling system typically has several backups, 
such as pumps or power generators. 

NRC spokesman Scott Burnell says the increase in such problems is 
insignificant because 22 of the incidents stemmed from two causes the 
agency was aware of, rather than a rash of separate problems.

Half the problems stemmed from the loss of power - needed to run 
critical cooling systems - and most of those occurred during the 
massive electricity blackout that struck the northeastern USA on Aug. 
14, 2003. The other half involved cracks in nozzles that, in some 
cases, let water seep from a reactor.

Lochbaum says that such explanations by the NRC do not ease his 
concerns about plants' safety. He blames the increasing "precursors" 
on scaled-back inspections by the NRC and plant owners.

>From 1993 to 2000, routine NRC inspection hours declined by 20%, 
partly because of budget constraints, the NRC acknowledges. 

Although the hours spent inspecting plants rose 11% from 2001 to 
2005, most of the increase stemmed from more attention to post-9/11 
security checks, rather than the operation of the plants.

NRC and industry officials acknowledge they're inspecting many parts 
of nuclear plants less frequently since 2000. But they say 
inspections are more effective because they now focus on critical 
gear whose failure poses the greatest risk to the public.

Questions about standards 

In its report, the UCS says the NRC has not consistently enforced 
many of its safety regulations for nuclear plants.

The group says that since 1981, for example, the NRC has issued about 
1,000 exemptions to plants that failed to meet fire-protection rules 
that went into effect after a 1975 blaze at the Browns Ferry plant in 

The NRC says the waivers were granted to older plants that couldn't 
make certain structural changes such as separating primary and backup 
safety gear. Waivers permit alternative fire-prevention methods, such 
as sprinklers or smoke alarms.

NRC Commissioner Gregory Jaczko says the agency should require plants 
to take more elaborate steps, such as installing fire-resistant power 
cables as backups to standard sets.

In February 2000, a steam generator tube at the Indian Point plant 
ruptured, causing a small radiation leak outside the plant. Workers 
had spotted corrosion in the tube in 1997, but Con Edison, the 
plant's operator, persuaded the NRC to delay a follow-up inspection 
slated for June 1999.

An NRC engineer was skeptical of the request, but agency policy 
discouraged her from asking follow-up questions, an NRC Inspector 
General's report found later. The tube broke before the next 
scheduled inspection in 2000.

The NRC says the inspection was delayed because the plant had been 
shut down for 10 months before the request, leaving little time for 
the tube to degrade further.

The UCS' Lochbaum largely blames enforcement lapses on an NRC culture 
he says discourages workers from raising safety issues out of fear of 
retaliation. A 2002 Inspector General's survey said only 53% of NRC 
employees "feel it's safe to speak up" at the agency.

The NRC's Richards says, "We emphasize safety as being important and 
... that people should raise concerns." 

To bolster enforcement, the UCS report urges Congress to require the 
NRC to recruit managers from outside its ranks to transform the 
agency's culture.

Another proposal, in a bill by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., would 
allow states to seek an independent safety assessment of a nuclear 
plant when it seeks a license extension or an increase in power 
output, or has repeated safety problems. 

The UCS also criticizes the NRC for not requiring new reactors to be 
significantly safer than current ones. 

Under a tentative ruling by the agency, new reactors wouldn't have to 
include features such as double-walled containment structures to 
withstand aircraft attacks. The NRC this year similarly decided 
against a proposal to force existing reactors to install giant mesh 
shields to deflect air attacks.

NRC Deputy Director Gary Holahan says nuclear plants already are "one 
of the most robust, safest facilities ... against air attacks." 

Developers of more than half the 32 planned reactors have chosen two 
models that use "passive safety" systems. If the core overheats, they 
rely mostly on a gravity-driven release of water to cool it, rather 
than on motorized pumps like those in existing reactors. The new 
systems cut costs and avoid potential breakdowns if power is lost, 
making them safer than current models, say the NRC and manufacturers 
Westinghouse and General Electric. 

But UCS scientist Edwin Lyman says the new designs' reduced reliance 
on backup pumps is a concern because their performance in a crisis is 
less certain. "They're shaving safety margins," he says.

Another point of contention: The NRC plans to have about 30% of its 
inspections of new reactors done by private contractors as it tries 
to streamline licensing reviews. Lochbaum worries that safety will be 
sacrificed in a rush to issue licenses quickly. Many engineers who 
designed the reactors will be responsible for reviewing them, he 

But NRC's Holahan says the contractors will simply be providing 
technical information. "We make the final decisions about whether 
something is safe," he says.

Nuclear shutdown causing political meltdown in Ottawa

OTTAWA (CanWest News Service; Ottawa Citizen) Dec 13 - On a day when 
Parliament passed a bill to restart the Chalk River nuclear reactor, 
the Harper government came under fire for allowing the reactor to 
shut down in the first place, causing a global shortage of medical 
isotopes used to diagnose cancer.

Wednesday night, the Senate passed an emergency bill that would 
restart the reactor for 120 days so that its operator, Atomic Energy 
of Canada Ltd. (AECL), can resume producing supplies of the highly 
sought isotopes.

Earlier this week, the Liberal Opposition had questioned the 
government's decision to override the recommendations of the Canadian 
Nuclear Safety Commission, which has warned of "serious concerns" 
about the reactor's safety.

But having thrown their support behind the emergency bill with the 
other parties, the Liberals changed tack Wednesday and attacked the 
government for not acting quickly enough to head off the isotope 

"We have a 50-year-old facility in Chalk River, no functioning backup 
reactor and no guarantee that we will not run out of medical isotopes 
again. When will the government get our nuclear house in order?"

The Nuclear Safety Commission first raised concerns about the 
reactor's safety in spring 2006, when the facility's licence came up 
for renewal. The nuclear watchdog granted a new licence to AECL in 
August last year, on the understanding that AECL would complete seven 
safety upgrades.

But on Nov. 19, commission inspectors discovered that one of the 
upgrades - the connection of two cooling pumps to a backup power 
supply - had not been carried out as promised.

AECL shut down the reactor on Nov. 18 for a planned maintenance 
check, but announced on Dec. 4 that it would extend the shutdown to 
complete the safety upgrade. Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn and 
Health Minister Tony Clement revealed this week that they learned of 
the extended shutdown on Dec. 4 and 5, respectively.

The opposition on Wednesday blasted AECL for not reporting the 
reactor's safety deficiencies earlier. The Liberals demanded that the 
Auditor General probe the affair, while Green Party leader Elizabeth 
May called for a public inquiry into AECL's "lack of accountability."

Some nuclear safety experts, for their part, scoffed at reports of a 
possible nuclear accident on the same scale of the Three Mile Island 
incident in the late 1970s. The risk of a nuclear meltdown of that 
scale is relatively small because the equipment in question would 
likely only be used in the event of a natural disaster such as 
earthquake, said John Luxat, Industrial Research Chair in Nuclear 
Safety Analysis at McMaster University.

"In this case what I believe they have done is taken a fairly 
intransigent position and forced a shutdown, but they don't seem to 
have taken into consideration the direct consequence of their action, 
which is to impose an immediate hazard on large numbers of people in 
Canada and around the world."

Harper defended the decision to intervene, and promised that the 
government will review the matter.

"I can certainly assure the House that when this is all behind us the 
government will carefully examine the role of all actors in this 
incident and make sure that accountability is appropriately 

Clement, the health minister, conceded that his department has no 
emergency plans in place for an unscheduled shutdown of the isotope 
reactor. "It took a little bit of paper clips and chewing gum and 
scotch tape to triage the system in the short term," he told 

But he said the situation was exacerbated by AECL's slowness in 
notifying Health Canada of the shutdown. "It's shocking quite 
frankly," said Clement. "Clearly if there is an issue of extended 
shutdown in the future, Health Canada has to be notified 

Russia and Iran agree nuclear power station timetable 

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia and Iran have settled all differences over 
the construction of the Bushehr nuclear power station and agreed on a 
timetable for its completion, the Russian contractor building the 
station said on Thursday.    
Russia's role in building Bushehr, Iran's first nuclear power 
station, is a key element in a diplomatic dispute over Iran's nuclear 

"We have resolved all the problems with the Iranians," said Sergei 
Shmatko, president of state controlled Atomstroiexport, which is 
building the Bushehr plant on the Gulf.

"We have agreed with our Iranian colleagues a timeframe for 
completing the plant and we will make an announcement at the end of 
December," Shmatko told reporters.

The United States, leading European Union nations and Israel say they 
suspect Iran wants to develop a nuclear weapon and have pressed 
Moscow to drop the Bushehr project.

But Russia says there is no evidence that Tehran is seeking nuclear 
weapons and that the uranium Moscow intends to ship to Bushehr is too 
weak to develop a nuclear bomb. Tehran says its nuclear program is 
aimed only at generating electricity.

Russia, using Bushehr as a lever in relations with Tehran, has 
repeatedly put back the start-up date, citing Iranian delays in 
making payments of millions of dollars. Iran always said it was up to 
date with payments. Shmatko said those problems were all resolved, 
but did not give details.


According to Russian forecasts, the first reactor at the Bushehr 
plant could be started up in 2008 and nuclear fuel would have to be 
shipped to Bushehr six months ahead of time.

"We absolutely, definitely intend to build the Bushehr atomic power 
station and intend definitely to deliver the fuel to the plant," said 
Shmatko, who said that Russia and Iran may form a joint venture to 
run the plant. He did not say when the fuel would be delivered.

Russian officials said the International Atomic Energy Agency, which 
sealed the fuel last month, confirmed the Bushehr fuel is Uranium-235 
enriched to less than 5 percent.

President Vladimir Putin visited Tehran in October, prompting 
speculation that the Kremlin wanted to play a bigger role in the 
diplomacy around Iran's nuclear program.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and the head of Russia's 
atomic energy agency, Sergei Kiriyenko, held talks in Moscow on 
Thursday. Mottaki proposed forming a joint gas company with Russia, 
RIA news agency reported.

Mottaki also attended a session of a bilateral commission on trade 
and economic cooperation and met his Russian counterpart Sergei 

"We are of course sincerely interested in solving the problems around 
the Iran nuclear dossier as soon as possible," Lavrov said in opening 
remarks at their meeting.

"This is possible only on the basis of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, 
the principles of the International Atomic Energy Agency and on the 
principle that Iran has the right to develop peaceful nuclear 

"We note progress in relations between the IAEA and Iran and 
encourage further progress to ... remove all remaining questions and 
restore international confidence in Iran."

Japan Nuclear Energy Drive Compromised by Conflicts of Interest 

Dec. 13 (Bloomberg) -- On March 25, Hokuriku Electric Power Co.'s 
nuclear generating station in Shika, Japan, was rocked by an 
earthquake that wasn't supposed to happen. 

Nine years earlier, Yoshihiro Kinugasa, the leading seismologist on 
Japan's nuclear licensing panel, signed off on a pre-construction 
study of the site. The report identified three fault lines, each less 
than 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) long, or just under the length 
regulators deemed threatening. 

In 2005, Kinugasa switched roles and published a study with Hokuriku 
Electric engineers that rebutted neighbors' claims the plant was 
unsafe. After the quake, government scientists found the fissures 
were in fact a single fault of 18 kilometers that could produce more 
shaking than the plant was built to withstand. 

A Tokyo Institute of Technology professor, Kinugasa has advised 
utilities, inspected plant sites and helped rewrite nuclear safety 
rules. His multiple roles show the conflicts of interest endemic in 
Japan's nuclear power industry, says Takashi Nakata, a Hiroshima 
Institute of Technology seismologist. 

``The same people are making the rules, doing the surveys and signing 
off on the inspections,'' says Nakata, who sits on the science 
ministry's earthquake survey committee. ``The regulators just rubber-
stamp the utilities' reports.'' 

Power company advisers dominated a panel responsible for rewriting 
Japan's nuclear safety rules, says Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismology 
professor at Kobe University who last year quit the body, saying the 
review process was rigged and ``unscientific.'' 

`Fundamental Improvements' Needed 

Kinugasa and the regulators say they are independent. 

``It's my job to give advice,'' Kinugasa says. ``I don't make 
decisions on safety. That's the regulators' job.'' 

Kinugasa, 63, has advised Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety 
Agency on every nuclear power plant permit since 1985, says Tomoyuki 
Tajiri, a spokesman for the agency. 

Concerns about conflicts of interest were underscored July 16, when a 
6.8-magnitude earthquake damaged the world's biggest nuclear power 
plant, run by Tokyo Electric Power Co., causing radiation leaks into 
the air and sea. 

``If we don't make fundamental improvements in the engineering 
standards for nuclear power plants, Japan could suffer a catastrophic 
nuclear-earthquake disaster,'' Ishibashi says. 

Japan imports virtually all of its oil and natural gas, so it is 
counting on nuclear energy to help meet increasing demand for 
electricity while cutting emissions of the greenhouse gases blamed 
for global warming. Japan's 55 nuclear reactors already generate more 
power than any nation other than the U.S. and France, and the country 
plans to boost its reliance on atomic energy to 40 percent of 
generation from 30 percent by 2030. 

Faked Safety Records 

Criticism of Japan's atomic industry stretches back to at least 1999, 
when two workers died from radiation poisoning after managers at a 
nuclear-fuel plant run by a unit of Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. allowed 
them to mix a uranium solution in steel buckets instead of government-
prescribed safety vessels. 

In 2002, whistleblowers revealed abuses that forced Tokyo Electric to 
say it had faked reports on repairs since the 1980s. The company's 
chairman and president resigned and all 17 of its reactors were shut 
by government inspectors. 

Two years later, superheated steam from a burst pipe killed five 
workers at a Kansai Electric Power Co. nuclear plant. The pipe hadn't 
been inspected for 28 years, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency 

To head off opposition to new reactors, the agency, known as NISA, 
demanded that power companies reveal any unreported safety breaches 
by the end of March 2007. In response, seven of Japan's 12 public 
utilities said they had falsified records for 30 years. 

``If it were up to me, I'd add some intrusiveness to Japan's 
regulatory process,'' says Ken Brockman, a former director of nuclear 
installation safety at the International Atomic Energy Agency in 
Vienna and now a consultant at Talisman International LLC. ``The 
circumstances there raise question after question.'' 

Matter of Trust 

The weakness of Japan's nuclear regulators is that they only step in 
when they see trouble, says Brockman, who also worked at the U.S. 
Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 

``In Japan, they intervene when they have a reason not to trust 
anymore,'' he says. ``In the U.S. system, trust has to be continually 

Responsibility for keeping Japan's reactors safe rests with the 
Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which also oversees the 
effort to increase nuclear power generation. By contrast, France and 
the U.S. have independent regulatory agencies. 

``We have built objectivity, fairness and neutrality into examining 
nuclear plant safety,'' says Akira Fukushima, deputy director-general 
for safety examination at NISA, an arm of the ministry. ``Separating 
our agency from the Trade Ministry isn't the issue.'' 

Regulatory Independence 

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission was set up in 1975 as an 
independent agency. Until the commission was created, the Department 
of Energy both regulated and promoted nuclear power. France last year 
made its Nuclear Safety Authority autonomous. 

``If you want to be a legitimate, credible and authoritative 
regulator then you need to be independent,'' says Mathias Lelievre, 
head of the agency's Paris division. 

Japan mitigates conflicts of interest by having the Nuclear Safety 
Commission, which reports to the prime minister's office, review all 
plant applications approved by NISA, Fukushima says. 

``Human errors can occur anytime to anybody,'' he says. ``That's why 
we double-check.'' 

The 1995 Kobe earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people focused 
Japan's attention on construction standards. In response, the prime 
minister's office appointed a panel of experts to strengthen the 
earthquake safety guidelines on which building codes for nuclear 
plants are based. 

Outcome `Predetermined' 

The problem was that a majority of the members also sat on committees 
of the Japan Electric Association, the main lobby group for power 
companies, says Ishibashi, the seismologist who quit the panel. 
Eleven of the 19 members served on association committees, says 
spokesman Yoshiyasu Araki. 

The panel approved guidelines eliminating a requirement that all 
plants be built to withstand a 6.5-magnitude earthquake, reflecting 
demands made by the Electric Association in April 2005, Ishibashi 
says. Under the new rules, adopted in September 2006, plant safety 
will be judged on a case-by-case basis. 

``We went around and around for five years, but the outcome was 
predetermined,'' Ishibashi says. ``The Japan Electric Association got 
its way.'' 

Araki says the change was necessary to accommodate evolving 
earthquake science. He defends the number of utility representatives 
on the safety panel. 

``The regulations have to be made by the people who use them,'' he 
says. ``Nobody else has the expertise.'' 

`Same Pool of Fish' 

Another former panel participant says Electric Association members 
have limited sway over nuclear policy, and their main task is to 
translate safety guidelines into building codes. 

``That's a very low-level role,'' says Shunsuke Kondo, who is also 
chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission of Japan, a government 
research body that advises on nuclear energy policy. 

Japan isn't unique in drawing nuclear regulators from a small group 
of experts, says John Large, a U.K.-based consultant who has advised 
Greenpeace on nuclear safety issues in Japan. 

``Virtually every regulator in the world has a cozy relationship with 
the nuclear industry,'' Large says. ``This is a very incestuous 
industry where the regulator and the operator and the manufacturer 
are all drawn from the same pool of fish.'' 

While Japan has never suffered a failure comparable to the 1986 
meltdown at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union or the 1979 partial 
reactor failure at Three Mile Island in the U.S., the nuclear 
consequences of a massive quake in Tokyo could be devastating. 

Tokyo Threat 

Chubu Electric Power Co.'s Hamaoka nuclear plant stands on the Tokai 
fault that runs near Tokyo, Japan's capital, where more than a 
quarter of the country's 128 million people live. 

Minoru Konagaya, co-author of the 2006 book ``The Capital That Was 
Erased by Radiation,'' used a model of the Chernobyl accident to show 
that meltdowns at Hamaoka's five reactors could kill as many as 8 
million people and bring the world's second- largest economy to a 

``Within eight hours Japan's strong westerly winds would carry a 
radiation cloud over Tokyo,'' says Konagaya, 36, a civil engineer who 
was part of a parliamentary delegation that investigated a failure of 
Hamaoka's emergency cooling system in 2001. 

At the time, Konagaya was an aide to a lawmaker representing the 
prefecture where the plant is located. His concerns were sparked by 
plant managers' responses to the parliamentary group. 

``They started with the premise that an accident couldn't happen,'' 
Konagaya says. ``For every one question, they had 10 answers. All 
they would say was that it was 100 percent safe.'' 

Worst-Case Scenario 

Ishibashi says Konagaya's conclusions are a possible worst- case 

``If a disastrous earthquake took place in the manner described in 
the book, it's not implausible that millions of people may lose their 
lives,'' he says. 

Chubu Electric isn't aware of Konagaya's conclusions, says spokesman 
Noriyuki Narugami. 

``We have made certain that the plant's earthquake engineering is 
safe,'' he says. 

The damage an earthquake can wreak on a nuclear plant was shown in 
July at Tokyo Electric's Kashiwazaki Kariwa power station in Niigata 

Kazuyuki Takemoto, a former Kashiwazaki city councilman and longtime 
anti-nuclear activist, was working at home when the quake hit around 
10 a.m. When he ran outside, Takemoto saw a neighbor climb from the 
ruins of his home. 

Nuclear Leak 

``The thing we had been warning against for 33 years had happened,'' 
says Takemoto, 57, whose house is 3 kilometers from the power 
station's seven reactors. ``All of our houses had collapsed, but we 
were more worried about the plant.'' 

At the facility, workers were struggling to contain a blaze in a 
transformer. Service roads buckled because of shaking that was as 
much as three times greater than the facility was built to withstand, 
Tokyo Electric reported. 

Contaminated water from a cooling pool had sloshed into the sea 
through drains, because sealing plugs hadn't been installed. The 
radiation released was within authorized limits for public health and 
environmental safety, the IAEA said Aug. 17. 

After the quake, Trade Minister Akira Amari said regulators hadn't 
properly reviewed Tokyo Electric's geological survey when they 
approved the site in 1974. 

That report underestimated the length of the nearby fault and hence 
the earthquake risk, Amari said. Kinugasa sat on the licensing 
committees for four of the plant's reactors. 

On Dec. 7, Tokyo Electric, Japan's biggest power company, said it 
knew from a 2003 study that an undersea fault near Kashiwazaki Kariwa 
could cause a magnitude 7 earthquake. 

Kinugasa Controversy 

Kinugasa's role in the nuclear power industry has been controversial 
for almost 20 years. 

In 1988, when he was a science ministry geologist, advice Kinugasa 
gave to managers at a fuel-processing plant resulted in his boss 
being reprimanded by parliament. Prior to a licensing inspection at 
the facility run by Japan Nuclear Fuel Service Ltd., Kinugasa advised 
that the word ``active'' be deleted from a description of the fault 
running under the site, a company document shows. 

``I didn't do anything wrong and that's why I wasn't punished,'' 
Kinugasa says. 

A decade later, Kinugasa was on the regulatory committee that 
approved a second reactor at Hokuriku Electric's Shika plant after 
the nearby faults were estimated at less than 10 kilometers long. 

`Money Before Safety' 

At the time, 10 kilometers was a magic number for Japan's nuclear 
planners because the safety code deemed that a fault of that length 
could produce a quake of about 6.5-magnitude -- the minimum all 
Japanese reactors were required to withstand. A longer fault would 
have demanded that a reactor be built to more stringent, and 
expensive, specifications. 

``Kinugasa was virtually the main expert specializing in fault-line 
study on the NISA licensing committee,'' says Haruo Yamazaki, a Tokyo 
Metropolitan University professor who once sat on the nuclear safety 
commission panel that reviewed license approvals by the frontline 
regulator. ``Ten years ago there were very few fault-line 

Many citizens in Shika, 600 kilometers northwest of Tokyo, weren't 
convinced. In 1999 they filed a lawsuit to close the plant's second 

``We didn't trust the utility's claim that the faults were 
separate,'' says Tetsuya Tanaka, 64, a representative of the 135 
plaintiffs. ``They were putting money before safety.'' 

`These Guys Are Fools' 

With the case dragging on, Kinugasa and three Hokuriku Electric 
engineers wrote their 2005 paper reproducing the findings of the 
company's 1998 license application. The report ignored an 
administrative convention used by government geologists that said 
small faults within five kilometers of each other should be 
considered a single fissure. 

Kinugasa says he didn't apply the five-kilometer rule because he used 
more sophisticated analysis and ``higher criteria.'' 

The paper didn't help Hokuriku Electric. In March 2006, the court 
ordered the company to shut down its second reactor, citing 
``inadequacy'' in seismic design. While an appeal to the Nagoya High 
Court kept the plant running, it was closed four months later after 
cracks were found in its turbines. 

This March, the area was hit by a 6.9-magnitude earthquake. The power 
plant suffered minor damage, according to Trade Ministry reports. 
After the quake, the Geological Survey of Japan investigated the 
ocean floor and found an active fault more than 18 kilometers long. 

``Either Kinugasa's incompetent or he did it on purpose,'' says 
Nakata, the Hiroshima Institute of Technology seismologist. ``I think 
he did it intentionally, trying to match the finding to the magic 

Kinugasa rejects that allegation. 

``There is no conclusive evidence that the faults are longer than I 
have said,'' he says. ``There's a group of idiots who are saying that 
I'm deliberately shortening the length of fault lines. These guys are 

Report: Total Chief Wants to Become a Nuclear Power Supplier 

PARIS (AP) -- Total SA Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie said he 
expects the oil company to expand its activities and start supplying 
nuclear power.

In an interview published Wednesday in French business daily Les 
Echos, he said "in 20 years I don't see how we could be absent in the 
fields of nuclear power and clean fuel."
Such a move requires long preparation and is "not for tomorrow," he 
said. Total is not interested in acquiring a stake in French nuclear 
engineering company Areva SA, he told the newspaper.

France relies on nuclear for most of its electricity and already 
hosts two state-owned nuclear champions: Areva and Electricite de 
France SA, whose nuclear activities account for 71.2 percent of its 

Asked about petrol prices, de Margerie told the newspaper at $90 per 
barrel oil is "not too expensive" -- costing less than mineral water. 
Prices are unlikely to fall much because "structurally we are 
entering in a system of high prices," he said.

Sander C. Perle
Global Dosimetry Solutions, Inc.
2652 McGaw Avenue
Irvine, CA 92614 

Tel: (949) 296-2306 / (888) 437-1714  Extension 2306
Fax:(949) 296-1144

E-Mail: sperle at dosimetry.com
E-Mail: sandyfl at cox.net 

Global Dosimetry: http://www.dosimetry.com/
Mirion Technologies: http://www.mirion.com/

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