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Nuclear News - Nuclear Monitor #839 - 8 March 2017

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Plutonium policy conference in Tokyo

On February 23 and 24, the Tokyo-based Citizens Nuclear Information Center (CNIC) and the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists held an international conference titled 'US-Japan Nuclear Cooperation Agreement and Japan's Plutonium Policy'. The conference brought together speakers from not only the US and Japan but also Korea, Taiwan, China, France and Germany. The conference resolution read, in part:

Plutonium Policy 2017 Statement, Tokyo, 24 February 2017

We recognize that Japan must make its own decisions about nuclear power in the best interests of its people, taking into consideration issues such as its effects on energy security and the environment. Yet Japan's plutonium policy has undeniable international and regional impacts, which, as a responsible nation, it must address in order to maintain regional and international peace, safety and stability.

Japan clearly acknowledges this responsibility, as demonstrated by its international commitments ‒ for example, in its joint declaration with the United States at The Hague Nuclear Security Summit in March 2014 where Japan mentioned "all Summit Communiqués' spirit to minimize stocks of nuclear material" and said it would "encourage other countries to consider what they can do to further HEU (highly enriched uranium) and plutonium minimization."

Some of the major conclusions we came to in our discussions were:

1) Many in countries neighboring Japan and the USA are deeply concerned about the security implications of Japan's stockpile of 48 tons of separated plutonium, as well as its plans to begin to separate up to an additional 8 tons annually at the Rokkasho reprocessing facility, starting in 2018. They regard this plutonium as both a proliferation threat, which could lead to heightened tension in the region, and a nuclear terrorism threat, due to its vulnerability to theft.

2) Although general awareness of the dangers of nuclear power generation has grown substantially since the Fukushima Daiichi accident, there is still a lack of interest on the part of the general public regarding the issues associated with reprocessing, including proliferation, nuclear terrorism, excessive cost and safety risks.

3) Reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel does not offer any advantages over storage and direct disposal with regard to radioactive waste management, energy security, or cost that would justify the major risks it poses. Japan should learn from other countries around the world that are pursuing safer, more secure and less costly alternatives – specifically dry cask storage pending deep underground disposal.

We therefore recommend that the governments of the United States and Japan:

Form joint commission(s), in the context of the US-Japan Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, to

(1) Review the issue of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant in particular with regard to its implication for regional and international security.

(2) Analyze ways of keeping Japan's existing separated plutonium safely and securely while mitigating the regional and international concern including the possibility of putting it under the custody of the IAEA.

(3) Exchange information and analyses on plutonium disposition.

and the government of Japan together with those of China and Korea:

1) Commit to a reprocessing moratorium in order to prevent the further accumulation of separated plutonium in the North East Asian region. Japan's government should lead the way by indefinitely postponing the startup of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant since Japan has already accumulated 48 tons of separated plutonium. Other governments in the region should follow this example by committing to suspend all activities and future plans to separate plutonium through reprocessing.

The full conference resolution is posted at:

"We drink our milk and water, eat our bread and meat with Chernobyl"

"Chernobyl keeps on, much bigger than a human life. Now the effect of low radiation is setting in. We drink Chernobyl every day with our milk, with our water. Daily we eat Chernobyl with our meat and bread" – the words of Belorussian investigative journalist and non-fiction prose writer, Svetlana Alexandrovna Alexievich1, in an interview2 with the German daily, Hamburger Abendblatt.

Alexievich, 68, wrote a highly-praised oral history of the Chernobyl disaster, Chernobyl Prayer / Voices from Chernobyl, won the 2015 Nobel literature prize and spoke on February 20 at an anti-nuclear literary festival in Hamburg, The Renewable Reading Days – Reading without Nuclear Power.3

"But our newspapers and TV broadcasters don't mention any of it," she says. "The state does all it can to keep us knowing as little as possible about Chernobyl. A new death now comes in a different garment ‒ and its mechanism has only just been set in motion.

"It's designed for centuries ‒ that's how long the radioactive decomposition goes on. But how are we to save people from it? Chernobyl is not just a catastrophe, it is the dividing line between two worlds. It's a new perception of the world, a new realisation. The Belarussians [northern neighbors of Ukraine] describe themselves as 'black box'. Since Chernobyl the Belarussians also record information, information for everyone, for all humankind."

In Belarus, nothing was heard of the Chernobyl disaster for months, only "after it had already penetrated our tiniest fibre."

"I remember how people were evacuated. I saw old women with icons, begging on her knees not to be taken away. The sun was shining, the gardens were in bloom, why should they leave?"

She recalls women of "a suicide squad" who washed by hand the contaminated protective clothes of the meltdown clean-up workers, who were promised washing machines that never came.

Alexievich criss-crossed Chernobyl-land for three years interviewing people, most of whom were uninformed and unprepared for the disaster.

"Russia is right now building a nuclear power station in Belarus at the border with Lithuania, despite the protests of people and the Lithuanian government. Another reason why Chernobyl is still a taboo subject for us.

"Again they're touting 'the peaceful atom' while there are still cancer-suffering children in the hospitals."

The reporter suggested that in a way Trump has plagiarized Putin. Long before he came with his "America First" agenda, Putin had worked on "Russian Greatness". Who was more dangerous to world peace?

"Both, I think. God forbid that they get together like Hitler and Stalin did."




‒ Diet Simon

USA: Who's watching the nuclear watchdog?

David Lochbaum from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has written an important, detailed report on problems within the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).1 Lochbaum is a nuclear engineer who worked at nuclear power plants for 17 years and the NRC for one year. He left the industry after blowing the whistle on unsafe practices.

The report finds that the NRC has failed to foster a positive safety culture within the agency itself. Numerous surveys of NRC employees reveal that an unacceptably high percentage of staff are afraid of reprisal and unwilling to contradict the agency's official conclusions:

  • The percentage of NRC workers who stated they could not disclose a suspected violation of law for fear of reprisal increased every year from 2010 to 2015, with 13% of workers falling into this category in 2015.
  • Surveys have shown that only 15% of the NRC workforce would be willing to raise a safety concern via the "Differing Professional Opinion Program".
  • 53% of the NRC workforce stated that their co-workers would not use an official non-concurrence process to raise a safety concern.
  • In 2013, 75% of NRC workers who had raised a safety concern reported feeling negative reactions in the form of lower performance appraisals and being excluded from work activities.
  • A 2012 survey of the NRC's workforce revealed that 39% felt unable to raise a safety concern to their supervisors without fear of retaliation. The NRC has intervened at nuclear power plants when lower percentages of workers report fears of retaliation.

Lochbaum writes: "Taken together, what all these statistics show is that when it comes to chilled work environments, the NRC may have the largest refrigerator in town. According to several different reports, NRC staff show a marked fear of reprisal, a reluctance to formally disagree with an NRC position, and a reluctance to use their right to refuse to sign onto technical documents whose contents they disagree with."2

Congress should act to improve the situation. Lochbaum writes: "The US Congress needs to intervene with the NRC just as the agency intervened at plants with comparable, or lesser, signs of safety culture distress. With aging nuclear reactors and shrinking maintenance budgets, the American public needs the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to be a nuclear RoboCop ‒ and not a Sergeant Schultz."2

Lochbaum proposes that House and Senate oversight committees should hold hearings into the NRC's safety culture and bring in NRC managers to testify. Two vacancies on the Commission provide another opportunity to strengthen the safety culture.

1. David Lochbaum (UCS), Feb 2017, 'The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Safety Culture: Do As I Say, Not As I Do',

2. Dave Lochbaum, 23 Feb 2017, 'Whistleblowers and the NRC: Do as I say, not as I don't', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,