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Safety upgrades to ensure safety French reactors

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

French authorities have laid out the improvements they want to see from the country's nuclear operators to ensure safety in case of extreme natural disasters. EdF (Electricite de France), operator of the country's 58 nuclear reactors, has six years to complete about 10 billion euros (US$12 billion) of measures to upgrade safety. Autorité de sûreté nucléaire, the French regulator, published the requirements for the industry in January and published the details on June 28.

The extensive measures to improve nuclear safety described by the Nuclear Safety Authority (Autorité de sûreté nucléaire, ASN) on June 28, affect the operations of  three organisations: EDF, which operates 58 large re-actors at 19 nuclear sites; Areva, which has fuel cycle facilities; and the CEA, which operates fuel and research facilities. 

The meltdown in Fukushima last year sparked a debate about the reliance on nuclear energy in France, which gets more than 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, the most in the world. In January, Autorité de sûreté nucléaire published a 524-page report on the sate of nuclear reactors in France. The report says that government-controlled power provider EDF needs to make significant upgrades "as soon as possible" to it's reactors in order to protect them from potential natural disasters. The ASN gave reactor operators until June 30 to deliver proposals meeting the enhanced safety standards of sites they run. ASN on June 28 published deadlines for measures including employing equipment such as diesel generators and bunkered control rooms, and guarding against flooding. EDF said it had "already initiated a plan of action" to comply with the requirements of the ASN.

An estimate by stateowned EDF that the measures will cost about 10 billion euros "is not improbable," Andre-Claude Lacoste, chairman of ASN told reporters. 
While safety must be "more robust," France's nuclear operators don't need to immediately shut sites, Lacoste said.

As well as thoroughly analysing external risks to nuclear facilities during planning and licensing, the operators of nuclear facilities "must be prepared to mitigate events beyond anything ever conside-red likely". 

Some 32 decisions were made on this basis by ASN, translating into 30 new regulatory requirements across the enti-rety of French nuclear infrastructure. In general, what the ASN wants in nuclear facilities is a 'hard core' of systems at each facility that are "incredibly robust and will provide essential safety services during even the most extreme circumstances."

Diesel generators for backup power have to be deployed between 2016 and the end of 2018 and bunkered control rooms and rapid response teams with specialized equipment by the end of 2014.

"No one can ever guarantee that a nuclear accident will never happen in France," Lacoste said. "We may need 10 years to completely understand what hap-pened at Fukushima." 

A 'rapid reaction force' of a different kind. French regulators have come to the conclusion that "despite the precautions taken, accidents can never be excluded." But if accidents can never be excluded, despite all precautions, then adding even more precautions does not eliminate the possibility of catastrophic releases of radioactive materials into the surrounding environment.
So prevention is only one half of the equation; the other half is coping with the consequences when things get truly out of hand. 

What is needed is a large and powerful team of experts and decision-makers outside the nuclear establishment whose sole responsibility is to provide maximum protection to living things beyond the perimeters of the afflicted nuclear facilities. This team would be dominated not by nuclear physicists and engineers but by specialists in the biomedical and environmental sciences, including agriculture, marine biology, and food sciences. These people would have the determining voice in all matters relating to the population and the environment -such as evacuation strategies; food monitoring; crop and livestock protection and monitoring; measures to minimize the spread of contamination through shoes, hair and clothing; strategies for protecting wildlife; offsite disposition of contaminated water from the stricken facilities....

EDF is also to put in place a 'rapid reaction force' of experts and engineers that can be deployed on short notice to any of its power plants around the country (see box above). They should be capable of 'intervening' during an emergency that involves several reactors at one site. The force should be in place by the end of this year and fully operational by late 2014. The company must also bring in enhanced training of its key staff to respond to major earthquakes and severe accidents.

Presenting nearly 1,000 recommendations aimed at securing French reactors, ASN chief Jean-Christophe Niel - Executive Director for Operations of ASN said: "A lot of people think that Fukushima is behind us, in fact it's ahead of us."

Sources: Bloomberg, 28 June 2012 / GlobalPost, 29 June 2012 / World Nuclear News, 29 June 2012.
Contact: Reseau Sortir du nucleaire, 9 rue Dumenge, 69317 LYON cedex 04, France.
Email: contact[at]
Tel: +33 4 7828 2922

Sortir du Nucleaire

"Reactors don't have lifetimes, they only have licensing periods"

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

"A nuclear power plant is infinitely safer than eating because 300 people choke to death on food every year." 
- Dixie Lee Ray. Washington governor and Atomic Energy Commission chairwoman; 1977. Quoted in Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky, comps., The Experts Speak: The Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation, p. 216, 1984

“We are now in the process of updating the standards on the basis of lessons learnt from that Tsunami”,  Godoy, acting head of engineering safety at the IAEA, 31 January 2007, after the December 2006 tsunami temporarily flooded a reactor in India.

TEPCO-Safety Measures

The safety measures at nuclear power plants derive directly from our top priority: "To ensure that, under all conceivable circumstances, the community will be protected from hazardous radioactive substances."

To that end, we have thoroughly incorporated the "defense in depth concept," which is the foundation of genuine safety. Thus, safety measures are built in at every stage of the process.

Defense in Depth
1. Measures to prevent unexpected events
* All designs provide margins of safety capable of withstanding even natural disasters.
* Strict quality control at every stage, from design to construction to operation.
* In addition to the elaborate regular inspections that take place every year, interlock and fail-safe systems are incorporated at every turn to prevent erroneous operations or actions.

2. Measures to prevent the escalation of unexpected events
* Detection devices to detect abnormalities immediately
* Equipment that automatically and safely shuts the reactor down

3. In the extremely unlikely event of an accident [to prevent release of radioactive substances]
* Emergency Core Cooling System (ECCS)
* Airtight structure of the primary containment vessel and the reactor building

Anti-Earthquake Measures
* Designed for the Largest Conceivable Earthquake
* Before constructing a nuclear power plant, the site is carefully studied for previous earthquake records and geological features. This study establishes that there is no active fault under the site. Then, the building, the equipment, the piping, and other equipment are all designed to withstand the strongest possible earthquake in the area.

Hard-to-Shake Structure
* Reactor buildings are built directly on solid bedrock after all soil has been removed. Furthermore, the reinforced concrete walls are far thicker than those used in other buildings. The building itself is a strong dice-like structure. Therefore, in the event of an earthquake, reactor buildings shake far less than an ordinary building.

Automatic Shutdown
* Seismic detecting devices in the reactor building are designed to automatically shut the reactor down if they sense an earthquake of level 5 or greater.

* Operation / Skills Training
In addition to the many safety measures related to plant and equipment, the operators and maintenance personnel receive periodic strict and thorough training on the job and in the training center. Every effort is made to ensure safe operation.

Excerpts from: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA): Basis Safety Principles for Nuclear Power Plants (75-INSAG-3 Rev. 1, INSAG-12);

49. The strategy for defence in depth is twofold: first, to prevent accidents and second, if prevention fails, to limit the potential consequences of accidents and to prevent their evolution to more serious conditions. Defence in depth is generally structured in five levels. (…)  If one level were to fail, the subsequent level comes into play, and so on. Special attention is paid to hazards that could potentially impair several levels of defence, such as fire, flooding or earthquakes. Precautions are taken to prevent such hazards wherever possible and the plant and its safety systems are designed to cope with them.


181. Of the extreme external hazards, seismic events receive special attention owing to the extent to which they can jeopardize safety. A nuclear power plant is protected against earthquakes in two ways: by siting it away from areas of active faulting and related potential problems such as susceptibility to soil liquefaction or landslides; and by designing the physical barriers and the safety systems contributing to the defence in depth of the plant to bear the vibratory loads associated with the most severe earthquake that could be expected to occur in its vicinity, on the basis of historical input and tectonic evidence. This is termed the design basis earthquake. Seismic design of plant structures, components and systems is carried out using response function methods, making use of a frequency spectrum for the design basis earthquake that is appropriate to the site. Seismic design takes account of soil–structure interaction, the potential amplification and modification of seismic motion by the plant structures, and interaction between components, systems and structures. The design ensures that the failure of non-safety-related equipment in an earthquake would not affect the performance of safety equipment.

"Although we are not building many nuclear power plants, we are able to permanently increase our most important final product, electrical energy. We are doing it by the excellence of our work: by keeping our units online longer, by increasing their power, by reducing the number of incidents and by avoiding accidents."
Adrej Stritar, President European Nuclear Society, in Nuclear Europe Worldscan Spring 2002 Edition, p.5

"Basically, nuclear power plant systems have two primary functions: power generation and environmental protection. The latter includes all the systems to minimize releases into the environment in all conceivable cases". Ann S. Bisconti and Antti Ruuskanen in: "Nuclear language - a guide to clarity"; Nuclear Europe Worldscan, July/August 1998

"Reactors don't have lifetimes, they only have licensing periods." Howard Cantor, previous director of the Office of Fissile Materials Disposition at the US's DoE, 14 September 1998

"It would be paradoxical in this situation if the world were to continue burning ever more hydrocarbon resources, which could have much more valuable uses, and were to leave in the earth uranium and thorium resources which can hardly be of any other peaceful use than as fuel in nuclear reactors". Hans Blix, then IAEA Director General, on September 4, 1997, speaking on the sustainable energy challenge. IAEA Press release 97/18, 4 September 1997

"Nuclear power is safe. It doesn't contain pollutants." New US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, successor of Federico Pena. World Environment News, 26 August 1998

John Graham (former president of the American Nuclear Society, and vice president in charge of environment, safety and health for British Nuclear Fuels' US subsidiary) is quoted by Nigel Hawkes in Science Briefing, in The Times of London, June 2, 1997, as saying: "People predisposed to cancer should be given radiation throughout their lives... I believe that one day radiation will become part of our daily exercise regime."

"If a simple and pain-free cure for cancer is found, most impacts and therefore the costs of the nuclear fuel chain can become negligible." Yoshio Matsuki (staff member of the IAEA Division of Nuclear Installation Safety) and Russell Lee (director of Center for Energy and Environmental Analysis, Oak Ridge USA) in an article comparing different energy risks. IAEA Bulletin 1, 1999.

"After the accident at Three Mile Island nuclear power plant on march 28, 1979, and before any credible study could be completed, a "blue-ribbon" presidential commission publicly expressed confidence that radioactive exposure of residents downwind of the ill-fated reactor were  too low for radiogenic health effects to be detectable. Subsequently, a prestigious research team fro Columbia University was commissioned to conduct a health study among the population around the plant. It was paid for by a litigation settlement fund, financed by the nuclear operator's insurers. The supervising court imposed strict conditions on the investigators with regards to how doses should be estimated. Predictably, the Columbia University study, reviewed and approved by the industry's attorneys, found no evidence that radiation releases from the Three Mile Island nuclear facility had influenced cancer risks during the limited period of follow-up, 1975-1985. Six years later, however, and based on the same health data, Wing et al. established tat radioactive exposure were significantly associated with excess cancer incidence, Their report presented evidence that the dose estimates used in the Columbia University analysis had been too low. This challenge to an authoritative finding, publicized earlier as "definitive" and "state of the art", by a new analysis with superior epidemiologic sensitivity, was met wit scathing rejection by the mainstream literature."
International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, Jul/Sept.2007; Manipulating Public Health Research.

“Turning now to nuclear safety and security, we have seen a very significant improvement in the safety performance of the nuclear industry since the Chernobyl disaster nearly 25 years ago. This reflects factors including improved design, better operating procedures, a strengthened and more effective regulatory environment and the emergence of a strong safety culture.”
Yukiya Amano, IAEA Director General, at the UN General Assembly in New York, USA, on 8 November 2010

I’m convinced that all the risks of nuclear power – accidents at power stations, keeping track of the fuel that can be turned into bombs, the problems of wastes, of transporting the fuels, can be managed but their management is simplified if nuclear power stations are confined to a relatively small number of what I call nuclear parks”.
Dr. Alvin Weinberg, Director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in The Observer, 1977

Our global challenge is to minimize the impact on environment while satisfying the electricity needs of the world. Nuclear energy plays an important role in fulfilling this objective because it protects the environment, provides much needed energy and makes sustainable living possible”.
International Nuclear Forum, December 2000, at the COP Summit in The Hague, Netherlands

"The important conclusion is that the reactor adds only a small and arguably insignificant amount to the individual and societal risk which all of us run in our everyday lives. Arguably there is little point in further reductions to the risk posed by such plant since the additional expenditure on safety provisions would be difficult to justify in terms of benefit to society"
J.H. Gittus, Sizewell B Power station in Atom (UKAEA), February 1986: Risk assessment for the PWR.

"This is a sustainable, sensible and supportable alternative to burning our environmental boats. Its not a threat from the past –it’s the way forward”
British Energy ‘s Peter Hollins , 16 October 2000, European Nuclear Council

“Nuclear power is absolutely safe”, Cloette Lewiner, President of European Nuclear Society, De Gelderlander (Nl), 27 April 1993

WNA Charter of Ethics
The World Nuclear Association has established a Charter of Ethics to serve as a common credo amongst its Member organizations. This affirmation of values and principles summarizes the responsibilities of the nuclear industry and the surrounding legal and institutional framework that has been constructed through international cooperation to fulfil President Eisenhower's seminal vision of 'Atoms for Peace'.

We, the Members of the World Nuclear Association, affirm:

Our belief that sustainability must be the guiding principle of global development – requiring worldwide policies that meet the needs and aspirations of the present generation without compromising the opportunity of future generations to fulfil their needs and aspirations;

Our confidence that nuclear power is a ‘sustainable development’ technology because its fuel will be available for multiple centuries, its safety record is superior among major energy sources, its consumption causes virtually no pollution, its use preserves valuable fossil resources for future generations, its costs are competitive and still declining, and its waste can be securely managed over the long-term;

Our conviction that nuclear technology is a unique and indispensable tool of sustainable global development –
• Unparalleled in its capacity to generate electricity cleanly, safely and on a large scale for a rapidly expanding world population whose future depends on the availability of environmentally sound energy resources; and
• Highly beneficial and cost-effective in worldwide efforts to promote agricultural productivity, eradicate virulent pests, protect livestock health, preserve food, develop water resources, enhance human nutrition, improve medical diagnosis and treatment, and advance environmental science;

Our recognition that nuclear science is proving equally valuable in supporting industrial societies and in helping the world’s poorest countries to advance;

Our keen awareness of the need to strengthen and sustain public confidence, both in the reliability of nuclear technology and in the people and institutions responsible for using it;

Our commitment to ensuring that nuclear technology is used safely and peacefully;

Our resolve to prevent and expose unsafe or illicit practices regarding nuclear material and to use all necessary precautions to protect individuals, society and the environment from any harmful radiological effects arising from nuclear material during use, storage, transport and waste disposal; 

Our adherence to the principle and practice of transparency regarding all types of civil nuclear activity, insofar as there exists a demonstrable public interest in the availability of such information and consistent with the public interest in protecting:
• Commercially valuable knowledge; and
• The confidentiality integral to full and candid participation in voluntary systems of review and exchange designed to enhance and maintain nuclear safety; 

Our strong support for the work performed –
• By governments, through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to promulgate nuclear safety standards for the worldwide nuclear industry and to ensure that there has been no spread of nuclear weapons arising from the civil nuclear fuel cycle; and
• In industry, through the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), to develop and maintain, using a comprehensive system of technical exchange and operational peer review, a rigorous safety culture at nuclear facilities worldwide;

Our shared obligation to support the work of the World Nuclear Association in providing an essential means by which participants in the global nuclear industry share knowledge, coordinate efforts to advance best-practice internationally, assemble and publish reliable information on nuclear power, and achieve sound representation in world forums that shape the policy and public environment in which the industry operates;

International Legal Obligations 
Our individual and common responsibility to uphold respective international legal commitments embodied in –
• The IAEA statute; safeguards agreements concluded pursuant to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons; and regional and bilateral accords providing for IAEA verification;
• The Convention on Nuclear Safety; the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material; the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident; the Convention on Assistance in the Case of Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency; the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter; and the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management; and 
• Other international treaties and conventions that contribute to ensuring the safe and peaceful use of nuclear technology throughout the world; 

Public Policy 
Our intention to cooperate, in a spirit of partnership, with those engaged in the research, development and operation of other technologies that yield energy without adverse effect on the biosphere; and

Our determination to promote, as a matter of ethical principle and urgent public need, an ongoing debate on energy resources that focuses citizens and governments alike on the real choices facing humankind and on the severe dangers – for the prospects of global development and for the biosphere – if decision-making on this fundamental policy is shaped by ideology and myth rather than by science and facts.

Excerpts from: "Safety of Nuclear Power Reactors", World Nuclear Association,  (updated January 2011)

(…) Those responsible for nuclear power technology in the west devoted extraordinary effort to ensuring that a meltdown of the reactor core would not take place, since it was assumed that a meltdown of the core would create a major public hazard, and if uncontained, a tragic accident with likely fatalities.

In avoiding such accidents the industry has been outstandingly successful. In over 14,000 cumulative reactor-years of commercial operation in 32 countries, there have been only two major accidents to nuclear power plants - Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the latter being of little relevance outside the old Soviet bloc.

It was not until the late 1970s that detailed analyses and large-scale testing, followed by the 1979 meltdown of the Three Mile Island reactor, began to make clear that even the worst possible accident in a conventional western nuclear power plant or its fuel could not cause dramatic public harm. The industry still works hard to minimize the probability of a meltdown accident, but it is now clear that no-one need fear a potential public health catastrophe.

The decades-long test and analysis program showed that less radioactivity escapes from molten fuel than initially assumed, and that this radioactive material is not readily mobilized beyond the immediate internal structure. Thus, even if the containment structure that surrounds all modern nuclear plants were ruptured, it would still be highly effective in preventing escape of radioactivity.

It is the laws of physics and the properties of materials that preclude disaster, not the required actions by safety equipment or personnel. In fact, licensing approval now requires that the effects of any core-melt accident must be confined to the plant itself, without the need to evacuate nearby residents.

(…) The two significant accidents in the 50-year history of civil nuclear power generation are:
Three Mile Island (USA 1979) where the reactor was severely damaged but radiation was contained and there were no adverse health or environmental consequences
Chernobyl (Ukraine 1986) where the destruction of the reactor by steam explosion and fire killed 31 people and had significant health and environmental consequences. The death toll has since increased to about 56.

(…) One mandated safety indicator is the calculated probable frequency of degraded core or core melt accidents. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) specifies that reactor designs must meet a 1 in 10,000 year core damage frequency, but modern designs exceed this. US utility requirements are 1 in 100,000 years, the best currently operating plants are about 1 in 1 million and those likely to be built in the next decade are almost 1 in 10 million.

(…) Regulatory requirements today are that the effects of any core-melt accident must be confined to the plant itself, without the need to evacuate nearby residents.

The main safety concern has always been the possibility of an uncontrolled release of radioactive material, leading to contamination and consequent radiation exposure off-site. Earlier assumptions were that this would be likely in the event of a major loss of cooling accident (LOCA) which resulted in a core melt. Experience has proved otherwise in any circumstances relevant to Western reactor designs. In the light of better understanding of the physics and chemistry of material in a reactor core under extreme conditions it became evident that even a severe core melt coupled with breach of containment could not in fact create a major radiological disaster from any Western reactor design. Studies of the post-accident situation at Three Mile Island (where there was no breach of containment) supported this.

(…) Flooding
Nuclear plants are usually built close to water bodies, for the sake of cooling. The site licence takes account of worst case flooding scenarios as well as other possible natural disasters and, more recently, the possible effects of climate change. As a result, all the buildings with safety-related equipment are situated on high enough platforms so that they stand above submerged areas in case of flooding events.

Excerpts from: "Nuclear Power Plants and Earthquakes", World Nuclear Association,  (updated 18 March 2011)

(..) Tsunamis

Large undersea earthquakes often cause tsunamis - pressure waves which travel very rapidly across oceans and become massive waves over ten meters high when they reach shallow water, then washing well inland. The December 2004 tsunamis following a magnitude 9 earthquake in Indonesia reached the west coast of India and affected the Kalpakkam nuclear power plant near Madras/Chennai. When very abnormal water levels were detected in the cooling water intake, the plant shut down automatically. It was restarted six days later.

Even for a nuclear plant situated very close to sea level, the robust sealed containment structure around the reactor itself would prevent any damage to the nuclear part from a tsunami, though other parts of the plant might be damaged. No radiological hazard would be likely. 

On Niigata chuetsu-oki earthquake and consequences for Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant.

"An analysis on the background of the shortage of personnel for the initial fire-fighting activities revealed that the personnel on duty on holidays at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa NPP failed to give instructions to organize the in-house fire brigade, due to the following reasons: i) Personnel for the in-house fire brigade, including the fire-fighting crew, were not stationed at the site on holidays or at night; ii) The fire brigade was not automatically organized when an earthquake occurred, but was called upon as needed whenever a fire broke out because it was not assumed that fires would break out at the same time as the occurrence of earthquake; and additionally, iii) The telephone line was congested."
p.63, 2007-2008 edition, Nuclear Safety White Paper, Summary, March 2009, The Nuclear Safety Commission, Japan. Viewed 24 march 2011.
Website: Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co., Ltd., 23 March 2011.

The Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co., Ltd. has applied the SSE (Safe Shutdown Earthquake) measure to 20 percent of gravity, 0.2g on operational and constructing nuclear power plants. But, stochastically SSE means that there is only one earthquake in almost every 10,000 years , so, compared with the 40 years of a nuclear power plant's lifetime, there is no chance of an earthquake within the scheduled operation period of a nuclear power plan.

"What I have heard, is that the Saudi Arabians are paying Greenpeace to campaign against Nuclear Power.  Well it wouldn't surprise me at all"
James Lovelock, interview with 'Creel commission', added 26-08-2005

In January 1986, KEMA releases study for Dutch government which is in the process of  getting a license for construction of new reactors. KEMA is one of the countries leading institutes on energy technology and nuclear safety issues.

Conclusion of the study:
"Even if all safety systems fail, when reactor is not cooled and radioactivity is released (meltdown), the consequences will be 'limited': there will be no deaths, drinking water is under no threat and agricultural consequences will be limited for the next two months. There will be no need for evacuations, only the advice to stay indoors."
ANP (Dutch press agency), 8 January 1986

David Kydd, spokesperson IAEA, after earthquake Japan 1999 and after saying that none of the 434 nuclear power plants have experienced major problems because of earthquakes. He says nuclear power plants are built with "tremendously strengthened foundations and structural features to ensure that they can withstand the biggest conceivable earthquake."
I.H.T. 9 November 1999

"Judging from testimony and data still available, the possibility that the reactor reached a critical state is extremely high". Tepco's Akio Komori in 2007 after revealing that five dislodged control rods probably caused a criticality accident that could have lasted 7,5 hours at Unit 3 of Fukushima-1 in 1978. World Nuclear News Daily, 27 March 2007)

"Our basic risk studies showed that human error accounts for one-third to one-half of all accidents". Darrell Eisenhut, deputy-director of NRC's office of nuclear reactor regulation. Time (USA), 2 June 1986

"As the country which has experienced most the most earthquakes in the world, Japan has implemented many measures in preparation of the 'big one'. Preparations have included installing sensitive monitoring devices in all Japanese nuclear plants which will trigger automatic shutdown if there are violent earth movements."

Atom (UKAEA), Jan/Febr 1995: Japan's reactors unaffected by earthquake.

"Because of construction delays at Rokkashomura, at least one utility, Tokyo Electric Power, has sought, and won from the Nuclear Safety Commission, approval to build a spent fuel storage facility at Fukushima-I."

Atom (UKAEA), Mar/April 1994: World-wide industry eyes the expanding market.

"Why is there so much concern about the risks of energy production – and those of nuclear energy in particular? The question is not as trivial as it might appear. As a first approximation, the answer is probably that the nuclear industry made a mess of its public relations from the word go. If, from the beginning, we had stressed the fact that the design of nuclear stations virtually eliminated the chance that anything can go wrong, the public perception of nuclear power might have been different today. Instead, for 40 years, widely publicized studies of reactor safety have concentrated masochistically on risk –and, in particular, on the vanishingly small chance that a major loss of coolant could result in core damage, release of fission products, and loss of life."

James Daglish, IAEA, in: Atom (UKAEA), July 1985

"If we do not invest in renewables now, I do see the time coming when a choice will be literally forced on us between a nuclear-fission economy and the greenhouse". Michael Oppenheimer, Environmental Defense Fund, Newsweek, 25 July 1988(!)

"Nuclear may need climate change more than climate change needs nuclear." Conclusion of Nucleonics Week of the European Commission meeting about "Nuclear in a changing world", October 1998. Nucleonics Week, 22 October 1998

New studies: How safe is nuclear power?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

There are two broad methods of assessing the risks of nuclear power reactors. The nuclear industry calculates the probabilities of accident scenarios but these 'probabilistic risk assessments' are flawed and consistently underestimate the true risks, as discussed in Nuclear Monitor #803.1

The second method of assessing reactor risks is to analyze the historical record. One such study, by Thomas Rose and Trevor Sweeting, has recently been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Rose and Sweeting analyze all past core-melt accidents and estimate a failure rate of 1 per 3704 reactor–years.2

The authors state:

"By our calculations, the overall probability of a core-melt accident in the next decade, in a world with 443 reactors, is almost 70%. (Because of statistical uncertainty, however, the probability could range from about 28% to roughly 95%.) The United States, with 104 reactors, has about a 50% probability of experiencing one core-melt accident within the next 25 years."

The authors also analyzed the role that learning from past accidents can play over time, using a much larger database of accidents and not just core-melt accidents, and conclude that few or no learning effects are in evidence. In their words, their statistical analysis finds "a probability for a (minor or major) accident in a nuclear power plant of about 1 in 1000 reactor years and shows no evidence of a learning effect."

Their findings come with caveats. Information is hard to come by, partly because the International Atomic Energy Agency does not publish a full list of International Nuclear Event Scale-rated events. Choices necessarily made by scholars tackling these issues greatly affect the conclusions. For example Rose and Sweeting exclude core-melt accidents in research reactors, they exclude the Windscale / UK 1957 fire on the grounds that it involved a military reactor, and they count Fukushima as one core-melt accident instead of three.

Rose and Sweeting conclude with a parting shot at the IAEA for its indefensible refusal to release data it has at its disposal:

"In conclusion, the number of core-melt accidents that can be expected over time in nuclear power stations is larger than previously expected. To assess the risk of similar events occurring in the future, it is necessary to determine whether nuclear power operators learn from their experiences. Our work shows that it is possible to investigate such learning effects through statistical analysis. Until the IAEA makes the relevant data available, however, the full story of accident probability and learning effects will remain untold."

Scientists for Global Responsibility

A somewhat similar analysis by Spencer Wheatley, Benjamin Sovacool and Didier Sornette has been published by Scientists for Global Responsibility.3 The authors compiled a dataset of 184 events from 1950 to 2014 that resulted in losses of US$20 million (€18m) or more (inflation-adjusted). One of their conclusions is more positive than Rose and Sweeting: they find that the frequency of accidents dropped substantially after Three Mile Island (TMI) and Chernobyl, and has remained relatively constant since.

That is no reasons for complacency as the authors go on to explain:

"This is good news, but not an adequate improvement: the post-TMI distribution is so heavy tailed that the expected severity is mathematically infinite. This is reflected by the fact that the severity of Fukushima is larger than the sum of all remaining events. This point cannot be emphasized enough, as it implies that, if one wants to reduce the total risk level, one needs to effectively exclude the possibility of the most extreme events. Put simply, we need to move to a situation where major nuclear accidents are virtually impossible."

On the basis of their analysis the authors estimate that:

  • one event per year causing damage in excess of US$20 million should be expected.
  • there is at least a 50% probability of a Chernobyl-type event (causing about US$32 billion (€28.7b) in damage costs) happening in the next 30-60 years.
  • there is at least a 50% probability of a Fukushima-type event (US$170 billion, €153b) happening in the next 65-150 years.

They state that while their estimates are highly uncertain, they are much larger than what industry estimates would suggest.

U.S. safety regime flawed

"I am confident that the legacy of Fukushima Daiichi will be a sharper focus on nuclear safety everywhere," said IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano in a March 10 media release. "There is widespread recognition that everything humanly possible must be done to ensure that no such accident ever happens again."4

But the reality doesn't match the rhetoric and the situation in the U.S. provides one example. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has released a report on the failure of the U.S. nuclear power industry to adequately respond to safety flaws in the five years since Fukushima, as well as the failures of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).5

After Fukushima, the NRC set up a task force to analyze what happened at Fukushima and assess how to make U.S. reactors safer. In July 2011, the task force offered a dozen recommendations to help safeguard U.S. nuclear plants in the event of a Fukushima-scale accident. Unfortunately, the NRC has since rejected or significantly weakened many of those recommendations and has yet to fully implement the reforms it did adopt. The UCS report also finds that the NRC abdicated its responsibility as the nation's nuclear watchdog by allowing the industry to routinely rely on voluntary guidelines, which are, by their very nature, unenforceable.

Among many other problems, the NRC decided to continue to allow plant owners to develop their own voluntary plans for managing a core-melt accident, rejecting a task force recommendation to require them to do so. If plans are voluntary, the NRC has no authority to review them or issue citations when they are deficient.

"Once again, the NRC is ignoring a key lesson of the Fukushima accident: Emergency plans are not worth the paper they are printed on unless they are rigorously developed, maintained, periodically tested, and subject to NRC inspection and enforcement," said Edwin Lyman from the UCS. "When it comes to many critical safety measures, the NRC is allowing the industry to regulate itself."

The UCS recommends a revised regulatory framework; expedition of transfer of spent fuel to dry casks; increased emergency planning zone sizes (beyond the current 10-mile radius); increased NRC oversight of operator guidelines instead of voluntary guidelines that are not subject to NRC enforcement; and validation of FLEX strategies that aim to make emergency equipment readily available to reactors during extreme events.


1. 'Nuclear accidents and risk assessments', 7 May 2015, Nuclear Monitor #803,

2. Thomas Rose & Trevor Sweeting, March 2016, 'How safe is nuclear power? A statistical study suggests less than expected', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Volume 72, Issue 2,

3. Spencer Wheatley, Benjamin Sovacool and Didier Sornette, March 2016, 'Statistically assessing of the risks of commercial nuclear energy', Scientists for Global Responsibility Newsletter no.44,

4. Nicole Jawerth, 10 March 2016, 'Five Years After Fukushima: Making Nuclear Power Safer',

5. Union of Concerned Scientists, March 2016, 'Preventing an American Fukushima: Limited Progress Five Years after Japan's Nuclear Power Plant Disaster',

See also: Elliott Negin, 10 March 2016, 'Five Years After Fukushima, U.S. Nuclear Safety Upgrades Lagging',

UCS, March 2016, 'Preventing an American Fukushima (2016)',

Edwin Lyman et al., 2014, 'Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster',

Nuclear accidents and risk assessments

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

A new study published in Physics and Society analyses 174 nuclear accidents between 1946 and 2014 that resulted in loss of human life and/or more than US$50,000 of property damage (in 2013 dollars). The accidents involved nuclear energy at the production/generation, transmission, and distribution phase (nuclear power plants, uranium mines, enrichment/reprocessing/MOX plants, manufacturing plants, transportation by truck or pipeline, etc.)1

The authors − academics Spencer Wheatley, Benjamin Sovacool and Didier Sornette − state that the rate of nuclear accidents meeting their criteria decreased from the late 1970s, decreased further after Chernobyl (April 1986), and since then has been fairly stable at around 0.002 to 0.003 events per plant per year (roughly one accident per year worldwide meeting their criteria). The distribution of damage size dropped after the Three Mile Island accident (March 1979) − the median damage size became approximately 3.5 times smaller.

The worst accidents do not show any clear patterns. The authors note that "the term "dragon-king" has been introduced to refer the situation where extreme events appear that do not belong to the same distribution as their smaller siblings."

Based on their statistical calculations, the authors estimate a 50% chance of a Fukushima event (or larger) in the next 50 years, a Chernobyl event (or larger) in the next 27 years, and a Three Mile Island event (or larger) in the next 10 years. However they note that "there is tremendous estimation uncertainty associated with these estimations."

A more detailed version of the research, along with the list of 174 accidents, will be published at a later date.

Probabilistic risk assessment

Wheatley, Sovacool and Sornette question the accuracy of probabilistic risk assessment (PRA), which requires the definition of failure scenarios to which probabilities and damage values are assigned. They note that statistical/empirical analyses of nuclear accidents have "almost universally" found that PRA "dramatically underestimates the risk of accidents", and they point to research demonstrating that PRAs are "fraught with unrealistic assumptions, severely underestimating the probability of accidents".

Likewise, Princeton University physicist M.V. Ramana challenges "misleading" PRAs such as Areva's estimate for its EPR of one core-damage incident per reactor in 1.6 million years, and Westinghouse's claim that for its AP1000 reactors the core melt frequency is roughly one incident per reactor in two million years.2

Ramana writes:

"There are both empirical and theoretical reasons to doubt these numbers. A 2003 study on the future of nuclear power carried out by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology points out that "uncertainties in PRA methods and data bases make it prudent to keep actual historical risk experience in mind when making judgments about safety." What does history tell us? Globally, there have been close to 15,000 reactor-years of experience, with well-known severe accidents at five commercial power reactors − three of them in Fukushima.

"However, as Thomas Cochran of the Natural Resources Defense Council explained in his recent testimony to the US Senate, depending on how core damage is defined, there are other accidents that should be included. The actuarial frequency of severe accidents may be as high as 1 in 1,400 reactor-years. At that rate, we can expect an accident involving core damage every 1.4 years if nuclear power expands from today's 440 commercial power reactors to the 1,000-reactor scenario laid out in the MIT study. In either case, though, our experience is too limited to make any reliable predictions.

"Theoretically, the probabilistic risk assessment method suffers from a number of problems. Nancy Leveson of MIT and her collaborators have argued that the chain-of-event conception of accidents typically used for such risk assessments cannot account for the indirect, non-linear, and feedback relationships that characterize many accidents in complex systems. These risk assessments do a poor job of modeling human actions and their impact on known, let alone unknown, failure modes."

Ramana notes that conclusions about overall accident probabilities derived from PRAs are "far from dependable". He notes that before the Chernobyl accident, B.A. Semenov, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency's safety division, said that "a serious loss-of-coolant accident is practically impossible" with Chernobyl-type reactors.

Ramana concludes:

"The lesson from the Fukushima, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island accidents is simply that nuclear power comes with the inevitability of catastrophic accidents. While these may not be frequent in an absolute sense, there are good reasons to believe that they will be far more frequent than quantitative tools such as probabilistic risk assessments predict. Any discussion about the future of nuclear power ought to start with that realization."

The Fukushima disaster illustrated one of the weaknesses of PRAs − the difficulty of modeling common-cause failures. Fukushima illustrated another problem − PRAs do not account for complacency, corruption, slack regulation etc.

He Zuoxiu, a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and researcher at the CAS Institute of Theoretical Physics, wrote in a 2013 article:

"The world's 443 nuclear power plants have been running for a total of 14,767 reactor-years, during which time there have been 23 accidents involving a reactor core melting. That's one major accident every 642 reactor years. But according to the design requirements, an accident of that scale should only happen once every 20,000 reactor years. The actual incidence is 32 times higher than the theory allows.

"Some argue this criticism is unfair. After all, 17 of those 23 accidents were caused by human error − something hard to account for in calculations. But human error is impossible to eliminate, and cannot be ignored when making major policy decisions.

"Even if we set aside the accidents attributed to human error, technical failings have caused core melting once every 2,461 reactor-years. That's still more than eight times the theoretical calculation."


1. Spencer Wheatley, Benjamin Sovacool and Didier Sornette, April 2015, 'Of Disasters and Dragon Kings: A Statistical Analysis of Nuclear Power Incidents & Accidents', Physics and Society,

2. M. V. Ramana, 19 April 2011, 'Beyond our imagination: Fukushima and the problem of assessing risk', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,

3. He Zuoxiu, 25 Oct 2013, 'Chinese nuclear disaster 'highly probable' by 2030',

Russia's nuclear slow-down

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green

Russia is often said to be one of four countries driving the global nuclear renaissance, along with China, India and South Korea. The World Nuclear Association's reactor database paints a rosy picture: 34 'operable' reactors, 9 under construction, 31 'on order or planned', and 18 'proposed'. Nuclear capacity is 25.3 gigawatts, with 57.2 GW in the pipeline.1

Those numbers mask a very different reality. If there is any nuclear growth in Russia, it will be slow and modest. The rapid, sustained growth implied in the term 'renaissance' is out of the question. Just four reactors have begun operation since the year 2000, and new reactors will be required just to maintain the status quo given the ageing of the Russian reactor fleet − already 19 reactors have been operating beyond their engineered life spans of 30 years.2

On May 26, Russia's ministry of economic development announced significant delays to the completion and start-up of new nuclear power plants.3 Deputy Russian Economic Development Minister Nikolai Podguzov said: "In agreement with all executive bodies together with Rosatom, our prognosis is there will be a very significant delay in commissioning the reactors. ... These units are simply not needed at the moment thanks to a current energy surplus."4

Reactors affected by the latest decision include the two reactors of Leningrad Phase II, the second reactor of Novovoronezh Phase II, and the planned four-reactor Smolensk Phase II project.

While the government cites an energy surplus for the nuclear slow-down, other factors are at work − Russia's economic problems, and Rosatom's inability to fund the many reactors projects it has planned in Russia and overseas. Nils Bøhmer, a nuclear physicist and executive director of the Environmental Rights Center Bellona, said: "I think this is the first signal from the Russian nuclear industry that they will reduce their building of new nuclear reactors, both domestic, but also on the international arena."4

A January 2015 report by the Russian Duma's independent Audit Chamber revealed that delayed payments for construction costs at numerous new nuclear plants are leading to cost overruns and delays. Overall, funding constraints have put seven of nine new Russian nuclear power plant builds behind schedule, according the report.5

The Audit Chamber report also questioned the adequacy of reviews of nuclear projects by the Directorate-General for State Environmental Reviews. One problem occurred at Leningrad-2 plant's No. 1 reactor − technical violations in construction resulted in a collapse of the unit's reinforcement cages, which brought down the reactor's outer protective shell in July 2011. The construction of the No 1 and 2 reactors was delayed by a year as a result, with substantial cost overruns.5

According to the Russian nuclear regulator Rostekhnadzor, 39 incidents occurred at Russian nuclear power plants in 2013. The main reasons cited by the regulator were "mismanagement, defects in equipment and design errors."2

In January, the international ratings agency Fitch downgraded 13 of the largest Russian companies, including Rosatom subsidiary Atomenergoprom. Government funding for Rosatom's reactor projects is expected to amount to 88 billion roubles (about US$1.57b; 1.41b) this year but will fall to less than half that amount in subsequent years.6


Vladimir Slivyak, co-chair of the Russian ecological group Ecodefense, noted in a recent article:

"Despite a portfolio of orders estimated at over $100 billion Rosatom claimed it had at the end of 2014, actual construction work on the company's new reactor projects is effectively only proceeding in China and Belarus (and the Indian Kudankulam-2 was just recently finished, according to the Russian media). Domestically, the state corporation last year promised to launch three new reactors, but only one saw the light of day: a new unit at Rostov NPP, in the south of European Russia. Overall, all Rosatom projects where any work at all is being done are affected by serious delays, which increases costs significantly."6

It is unlikely that Rosatom is capable of building dozens of new reactors across the world. The Russian National Wealth Fund − which is meant to complement and support Russia's pension system − is being plundered to part-fund Rosatom's planned new reactor in Finland.6

Former World Nuclear Association executive Steve Kidd noted in October 2014 that it is "highly unlikely that Russia will succeed in carrying out even half of the projects in which it claims to be closely involved".7

There are also serious doubts about the ability of a number of the countries interested in buying Russian reactors to finance them − even though Rosatom is offering huge loans to get projects off the ground. Countries reported to be considering purchasing Russian reactors include Iran, Turkey, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Jordan, Hungary, Finland, Egypt, India and South Africa.

Floating reactors, fast reactors

The cost of building Russia's floating nuclear power plant has increased four-fold to 37 billion rubles (US$660m; €590m), and it is seven years behind schedule. The plant, which is two years from completion, comprises a barge and two 35-megawatt reactors. There are concerns that it will be a sitting duck for terror attacks, nuclear theft, and unreachable accidents.8

Rosatom subsidiary Rosenergoatom has "indefinitely" postponed construction of the BN-1200 sodium-cooled fast neutron reactor, citing the need to improve fuel for the reactor and amid speculation about the cost-effectiveness of the project. The decision to indefinitely postpone the project might be reviewed in 2020. The reactor had been scheduled to start commercial operation in 2025, depending on experience operating a pilot BN-800 fast-neutron reactor which achieved first criticality in June 2014 but has not yet started commercial operation.9

As recently as July 2014, Rosenergoatom's director general said that Russia planned to begin construction of three BN-1200 reactors before 2030.9 OKBM − the Rosatom subsidiary that designed the BN-1200 reactor − previously anticipated that the first BN-1200 reactor would be commissioned in 2020, followed by eight more by 2030.10

Rosenergoatom spokesperson Andrey Timonov the BN-800 reactor "must answer questions about the economic viability of potential fast reactors because at the moment 'fast' technology essentially loses this indicator [when compared with] commercial VVER units."9

Another fast-neutron reactor project − the BREST-OD-300 − is stretching Rosatom's funds. Bellona's Alexander Nikitin said that Rosatom's "Breakthrough" program to develop the BREST-OD-300 reactor was only breaking Rosatom's piggy-bank.4,11



2. Vladimir Slivyak, December 2014, 'Russian Nuclear Industry Overview',

3. WNN, 27 May 2015, 'Russian ministry agrees to postponement of new reactors',

4. Charles Digges, 8 June 2015, 'Is Russia postponing reactor builds over power surpluses or financial deficits?',

5. Charles Digges, 27 Jan 2015, 'Russian Audit Chamber cites ballooning budgets in domestic nuke projects',

6. Vladimir Slivyak, 18 May 2015, 'Survival of the fittest? World’s major nuclear builders are in for a long stretch in the red',

7. Steve Kidd, 6 Oct 2014, "The world nuclear industry – is it in terminal decline?",

8. Charles Digges, 25 May 2015, 'New documents show cost of Russian floating nuclear power plant skyrockets',

9. World Nuclear News, 16 April 2015, 'Russia postpones BN-1200 in order to improve fuel design',


11. Alexander Nikitin, 5 May 2015, 'In a perpetual search for perpetuum mobile',

More information:


One deep underground dump, one dud

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green − Nuclear Monitor editor

There is only one deep underground dump (DUD) for nuclear waste anywhere in the world, and it's a dud. The broad outline of this dud DUD story is simple and predictable: over a period of 10−15 years, high standards gave way to complacency, cost-cutting and corner-cutting.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico, USA, is a burial site for long-lived intermediate-level waste from the US nuclear weapons program. More than 171,000 waste drums have been stored in salt caverns 2,100 feet (640 metres) underground since WIPP opened in 1999.

Earl Potter, a lawyer who represented Westinghouse, WIPP's first operating contractor, said: "At the beginning, there was an almost fanatical attention to safety. I'm afraid the emphasis shifted to looking at how quickly and how inexpensively they could dispose of this waste."1

Likewise, Rick Fuentes, president of the Carlsbad chapter of the United Steelworkers union, said: "In the early days, we had to prove to the stakeholders that we could operate this place safely for both people and the environment. After time, complacency set in. Money didn't get invested into the equipment and the things it should have."1

Before WIPP opened, sceptical locals were invited to watch experiments to assure them how safe the facility would be. Waste containers were dropped from great heights onto metal spikes, submerged in water and rammed by trains.1 Little did they know that a typo and kitty litter would be the undoing of WIPP.

On 14 February 2014, a drum rupture spread contaminants through about one-third of the underground caverns and tunnels, up the exhaust shaft, and into the outside environment. Twenty-two people were contaminated with low-level radioactivity.

A Technical Assessment Team convened by the US Department of Energy (DoE) has recently released a report into the February 2014 accident.2 The report concludes that just one drum was the source of radioactive contamination, and that the drum rupture resulted from internal chemical reactions.

Chemically incompatible contents in the drum − nitrate salt residues, organic sorbent and an acid neutralization agent − supported heat-generating chemical reactions which led to the creation of gases within the drum. The build-up of gases displaced the drum lid, venting radioactive material and hot matter that further reacted with the air or other materials outside the drum to cause the observed damage.

Kitty litter

The problems began at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), where the drum was packed. One of the problems at LANL was the replacement of inorganic absorbent with an organic absorbent − kitty litter. Carbohydrates in the kitty litter provided fuel for a chemical reaction with metal nitrate salts being disposed of.

The switch to kitty litter took effect on 1 August 2012. LANL staff were explicitly directed to "ENSURE an organic absorbent (kitty litter) is added to the waste" when packaging drums of nitrate salts. LANL's use of organic kitty litter defied clear instructions from WIPP to use an inorganic absorbent.3

Why switch from inorganic absorbent to organic kitty litter? The most likely explanation is that the problem originated with a typo in notes from a meeting at LANL about how to package "difficult" waste for shipment to WIPP − and the subsequent failure of anyone at LANL to correct the error. In email correspondence, Mark Pearcy, a member of the team that reviews waste to ensure it is acceptable to be stored at WIPP, said: "General consensus is that the 'organic' designation was a typo that wasn't caught."3

LANL officials have since acknowledged several violations of its Hazardous Waste Facility Permit including the failure to follow proper procedures in making the switch to organic litter, and the lack of follow-up on waste that tests showed to be highly acidic.4

Ongoing risks

The heat generated by the rupture of drum #68660 may have destabilized up to 55 other drums that were in close proximity. A June 2014 report by LANL staff based at WIPP said the heat "may have dried out some of the unreacted oxidizer-organic mixtures increasing their potential for spontaneous reaction. The dehydration of the fuel-oxidizer mixtures caused by the heating of the drums is recognized as a condition known to increase the potential for reaction."5

The Albuquerque Journal reported on March 15 that 368 drums with waste comparable to drum #68660 are stored underground at WIPP − 313 in Panel 6, and 55 in Room 7 of Panel 7, the same room as drum #68660. WIPP operators are trying to isolate areas considered to be at risk with chain links, brattice cloth to restrict air flow, mined salt buffers and steel bulkheads. Efforts to shut off particular rooms and panels have been delayed and complicated by radiological contamination, limitations on the number of workers and equipment that can be used due to poor ventilation, and months of missed maintenance that followed the February 2014 accident.6

An Associated Press report states that since September 2012, LANL packed up to 5,565 drums with organic kitty litter. Of particular concern are 16 drums with highly acidic contents as well as nitrate salts. Of those 16 drums, 11 are underground at WIPP (one of them is drum #68660), and the other five are in temporary storage at a private waste facility in Andrews, Texas.4

Freedom of Information revelations

The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper has revealed further details about problems before and after the February 2014 accident, based on material from a Freedom of Information Act request.3

The New Mexican reports that LANL workers came across a batch of waste that was highly acidic, making it unsafe for shipping. A careful review of treatment options should have followed, but instead LANL and its contractors took shortcuts, adding acid neutralizer as well as kitty litter to absorb excess liquid. The wrong neutralizer was used, exacerbating the problem.3

One of these waste drums was #68660. Documents accompanying the drum from LANL to WIPP made no mention of the high acidity or the neutralizer, and they said that it contained an inorganic absorbent.3

The decision to take shortcuts was likely motivated by pressure to meet a deadline to remove waste from an area at LANL considered vulnerable to fire. Meeting the deadline would have helped LANL contractors' extend their lucrative contracts to package waste at LANL and transport it to WIPP.3

For two years preceding the February 2014 incident, LANL refused to allow inspectors conducting annual audits for the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) inside the facility where waste was treated, saying the auditors did not have appropriate training to be around radioactive waste. The NMED did not insist on gaining access because, in the words of a departmental spokesperson, it was "working on higher priority duties at the time that mandated our attention."3

There were further lapses after the drum rupture. The New Mexican reported:

"Documents and internal emails show that even after the radiation leak, lab officials downplayed the dangers of the waste − even to the Carlsbad managers whose staff members were endangered by its presence − and withheld critical information from regulators and WIPP officials investigating the leak. Internal emails, harshly worded at times, convey a tone of exasperation with LANL from WIPP personnel, primarily employees of the Department of Energy and Nuclear Waste Partnership, the contractor that operates the repository."3

Several months after the rupture of drum #68660, an LANL chemist discovered that the contents of the drum matched those of a patented explosive. Personnel at WIPP were not informed of the potential for an explosive reaction for nearly another week − and they only learned about the problem after a DoE employee leaked a copy of the chemist's memo to a colleague in Carlsbad the night before a planned entry into the room that held the ruptured drum. That planned entry was cancelled. Workers in protective suits entered the underground area several days later to collect samples.3

"I am appalled that LANL didn't provide us this information," Dana Bryson from DoE's Carlsbad Field Office wrote in an email when she learned of the memo.3

The DoE employee who first alerted WIPP personnel to the threat was reprimanded by the DoE's Los Alamos Site Office for sharing the information.3


Inevitably the clean-up has faced problems due to radioactive contamination in the underground panels and tunnels, and delays in routine underground maintenance because of the contamination. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported on some of these problems:

"In October, when a fan was tested for the first time since the accident, it kicked up low levels of radioactive materials that escaped from the mine. Waste drums that normally would have been permanently disposed of within days of their arrival at WIPP instead were housed in an above-ground holding area for months and leaked harmful but nonradioactive vapors that sickened four workers. A chunk of the cavern's ceiling crashed to the ground after the contamination delayed for months the routine bolting that would have stabilized the roof."1

Another problem is that workers are entering underground areas that are not being monitored for carcinogenic volatile organic compounds. Monitoring of these compounds, a condition of WIPP's permit from the state of New Mexico, has not been taking place since February 2014 because of limited access to contaminated underground areas.5

Don Hancock from the Southwest Research and Information Center said:

"They have no intention of starting to do the volatile organic compound monitoring in the underground at least until January of 2016. They fully intend to keep sending workers into the underground with no intention of following this requirement. It's in violation of the permit, and the Environment Department should say so."5


The NMED has fined the DoE US$54 million (€49.2m). The Department identified 13 violations at WIPP, and imposed penalties of US$17.7 million (€16.1m). The Department identified 24 violations at LANL, and imposed penalties of US$36.6 million (€33.3m).7 The DoE is appealing the fines.8

The DoE says that any state fines it pays for the WIPP accident will come from money appropriated to clean up nuclear weapons sites in New Mexico. A 2016 budget year summary presented in February by DoE's Office of Environmental Management says: "Any fines and penalties assessed on the EM [environmental management] program would be provided by cleanup dollars, resulting in reduced funding for cleanup activities."8

NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn responded:

"Essentially, DoE is threatening to punish states by doing less cleanup work if states attempt to hold it accountable for violating federal and state environmental laws. States like New Mexico welcome federal facilities into our communities with the understanding that these facilities will respect the health and safety of our citizens by complying with federal and state laws."8

The NMED is working on a new compliance order that could include fines of more than US$100 million (€91.1m). Flynn said:

"We've indicated all along that if DoE is willing to take accountability for the events that caused the release and work with the state then we'd be willing to release them from any further liability at Los Alamos and WIPP. If DoE is not willing to take accountability for what's occurred, then they are going to face significant additional penalties."9

A February 22 editorial in the Albuquerque Journal states:

"It would behoove the DoE to quit poisoning the well when it doesn't have another option for disposing of this kind of waste underground. ... So the DOE should start paying up and playing fair with the only game in town."10

Greg Mello from the Los Alamos Study Group said that an increase in weapons spending proposed by the Obama administration would pay "all the NMED-proposed fines a few times over."8

Clean-up costs

Costs associated with the February 2014 accident include clean-up costs, fines, and costs associated with managing the backlog of waste at other sites until it can be sent to WIPP. Total costs will be at least US$500 million (€455m).1

WIPP is unlikely to be fully operational until at least 2018 according to federal Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. "We are targeting 2018 but I have to admit that that remains a little uncertain; the key project is the new ventilation system and that is still undergoing engineering analysis," Moniz said in February.

Don Hancock doubts that the 2018 timeline can be met. Salt mines exist across the world, he said, but reopening a contaminated salt mine following a radiological release is unprecedented and the government has no model to follow.11

Earl Potter, the former Westinghouse lawyer with a long association with WIPP, told the New Mexican that he doubted whether WIPP could continue if another radiation leak happened during the recovery process. "We can survive one," he said, "but two, I don't think so."1

1. Patrick Malone, 14 Feb 2015, 'Repository's future uncertain, but New Mexico town still believes',
2. Technical Assessment Team, March 2015, 'Investigation of Incident at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant'
Full report:
3. Patrick Malone, 15 Nov 2014, 'LANL officials downplayed waste's dangers even after leak',
4. Jeri Clausing / Associated Press, 4 July 2014, 'U.S. lab admits violating nuke-waste permit',
5. Patrick Malone, 29 Nov 2014, 'Emails raise questions about risks to WIPP workers sent underground',
6. Lauren Villagran, 15 March 2015, 'Roof collapses pose safety risk for workers at WIPP',
7. WNN, 8 Dec 2014, 'Fines follow WIPP incidents',
8. Mark Oswald, 20 Feb 2015, 'DOE says any fines for WIPP leak will come from clean-up money',
9. 10 Feb 2015, 'New Mexico Considers More Fines Over Nuke Leak',
10. Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board, 22 Feb 2015, 'Editorial: Balking at fines won't help DOE reach a nuke solution',
11. Meg Mirshak, 24 March 2015, 'New Mexico group doubts WIPP repository will reopen by deadline, leaving waste stranded at Savannah River Site',

Europe is ill-prepared for a Fukushima-level accident

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Nuclear Transparency Watch (NTW), composed of activists and experts from across the European continent, has released the results of a year-long investigation into the preparedness of European governments and nuclear utilities for a nuclear accident. The study collected information on Emergency Preparedness and Response (EP&R) measures in 10 EU countries.

Michèle Rivasi, chair of NTW and Member of the European Parliament, said:

"The disaster of Fukushima has shed light on a number of very serious dysfunctions: in one of the evacuated city, Futaba, patients of the hospital have been left on their own for three days because the medical staff had run away. The panic made all plans useless, despite the famous "Japanese discipline". Besides the unforeseeable reactions (which will lead in any way to chaos), the theoretical plans revealed totally inefficient. There are numerous shocking facts. Some patients were transported to places without any care facilities and the evacuation zone was ill defined and too small (it jumped arbitrarily from 2km to 3km and then to 10 and 20km, whereas the US authorities ordered their expats to leave from the 80km zone)."

Despite the Fukushima experience, EP&R measures in Europe vary considerably and are generally inadequate. The European Commission and European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group initiated a process of stress tests for all operating nuclear power plants in Europe in the aftermath of Fukushima, but this process did not include off-site EP&R. Later attempts by the European Commission to take action on this issue seem to have come to a virtual halt. EP&R plans in Europe are mostly based on INES Level 5 nuclear accidents and they generally cannot cope with an INES 7 accident, which is the level of the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents.

Specific problems include:

Emergency drills – Many regional and local authorities are not properly prepared for a nuclear accident. Sufficient dedicated staff, accurate evacuation plans and full scope exercises involving the local population are missing. Lessons learned from exercises and drills are not taken into account in new versions of plans, nor are they communicated to stakeholders.

Updating plans – The report notes inadequate updating of EP&R plans regarding spatial changes (new residential neighborhoods, medical centers, schools, roads, etc.) and recent changes in technology (internet, mobile phones, new social media, etc.). EP&R plans inadequately address cross-border issues and the multi-lingual, multi-national and multi-cultural character of contemporary European societies.

Communication – Even during exercises and drills, the communication and notification lines for responsible institutions exhibit deficiencies. Contact details of involved personnel are sometimes wrong or out-dated. Some concerned administration services do not communicate between themselves, and for others, their communication is inadequate or delayed, or even both.

For example, in Germany, the crisis teams of the Federal Ministry for the Environment and the federal states Environmental Ministries failed in a communication exercise in September 2014. The outcomes show that more than one million inhabitants would have been affected by radioactive releases before any public warning by the authorities and some regions would have received instructions (to close the windows, doors, etc.) five hours too late. How are the communication lines supposed to work between two neighboring countries if it is so chaotic already on a national level?

Distribution of iodine tablets – The heterogeneity of measures in different countries
(like the distribution of iodine, evacuation perimeters and zoning) is a crucial transboundary issue.

As an example, in Austria and Luxembourg, iodine tablets can be collected in any pharmacy to be stored at home in the whole territory.

In the Czech Republic, iodine tablets are pre-distributed and stored in houses only in an emergency zone up to 13 km around the Temelín NPP and 20 km around the Dukovany NPP. Today, not all parts of the population in the emergency zone have iodine tablets.

In Belgium and France, iodine tablet pre-distribution zones are established within 20 km and 10 km around the nuclear power plants respectively. For residents living outside the pre-distribution zone, there are centralized stocks, which need to be distributed after the nuclear accident happens.

In Germany, iodine tablets have to be collected by the public itself after the accident. The question is how will the iodine tablets reach the affected population in time?

In Japan, stocks existed locally before the Fukushima disaster. But given the fact that the authorities failed to give appropriate instructions to the public, iodine tablets could be distributed only for a very small number of residents in the area surrounding the damaged plant.

Food standards – There is a need for clarification of food standards and their harmonization especially in the post-accident context. There are several different food standards imposing radioactivity limits per mass or volume. A repetition of the chaos in food standards after the Fukushima catastrophe has to be prevented at all cost.

NTW calls for systematic involvement of civil society in the development of EP&R plans. NTW's assessment makes it clear that the usual top-down approach in EP&R should be changed and that local populations and interested civil society organisations should be actively involved and supported in this participation.

Fukushima and beyond: nuclear power in a low-carbon world

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Peter Karamoskos − Nuclear Radiologist, member of the National Council of the Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia)

Review of: Christopher Hubbard, 2014, 'Fukushima and beyond: nuclear power in a low-carbon world', Ashgate Publishing, ISBN 978-1-4094-5491-5

When Tony Benn was Britain's Energy Secretary, he warned about people who came to you with a problem in one hand, and a solution in their back pocket. He learnt this from Britain's nuclear industry. One should keep this in mind when considering climate change as the latest rationale for expansion of the nuclear industry.

This book, authored by a lecturer in International Relations and International Security at Edith Cowan University in Perth, Australia, is rooted in the premise that nuclear power is essential to climate change mitigation.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster is used as a contextual leverage point to argue the counterfactual that this event, and more particularly the response to it, has made nuclear power more desirable than he contends it previously was. As the author states, rather blithely, on the issue of safety, "... simply put, the nuclear energy sector is extremely safe because it must be."

The foundational premise of the book, that nuclear power is essential to climate change mitigation is axiomatic to all arguments which follow. If it is not, then nuclear power becomes nothing more than a 'climate choice'.

The problem with this premise, which the author does not challenge, is that if we only address greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation, then we can't avert climate change. Indeed, an important point not stated until the last chapter is that electricity does not account for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions, yet, this is the only sector that nuclear power can influence.

The latest IPCC Report1 states that the latest global greenhouse gas emissions were 49 gigatonnes (Gt) CO2-eq/yr as of 2010. Electricity and heating accounted for 12 Gt, with electricity alone about 9 Gt. Agriculture, forestry and other land use account for 12 Gt, transport 7 Gt, industry 10 Gt. Other energy sources account for the balance. So, approximately 80% of greenhouse gases (GHG) have nothing to do with electricity.

We need to reduce our GHG emissions by 40–70% of 2010 emissions by 2050 and near-zero emissions by the end of this century if we are to maintain a global temperature rise of <2 °C and thus avoid distressing climate change impacts in ecological and socio-economic systems.

If we assume the (incorrect) argument that nuclear power produces no CO2 emissions and that every kW produced avoids 500 g of CO2-e/kWh being released into the atmosphere (the average carbon intensity of global electricity generation), nuclear power currently abates 1.5 Gt per annum of GHG.

The IAEA in a report advocating nuclear power as a solution to climate change, forecasts two scenarios for the future of nuclear power: a 'low' scenario (435 GW), and a 'high' scenario (722 GW) generation capacity by 2030. However, the claim that the nuclear industry will more than double its capacity over the next few decades (in the 'high scenario') is pure fantasy.

We currently commission about one new reactor a year somewhere in the world. If under the most optimistic conditions we raise that to 8 a year for the next 10 years and 15 a year for the 10 years after that, we simply have replaced the reactors that will be de-commissioned by then. And for every year we do not meet this rate of build, the hill to be climbed gets steeper.

However, assuming that the nuclear industry pulled the proverbial rabbit out of a hat and was able to double its capacity over this time period, and (falsely) assuming that it generates no greenhouse gases itself, it would only abate an additional 2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases per annum over the existing 1.5 Gt it already abates, i.e. 4% abatement on 2010 emissions. Therefore, how can a 3.6 Gt abatement (assuming it replaces mainly fossil fuels for electricity generation and it does not generate GHG in its life cycle – clearly not the case) be considered indispensable?

Surely it can be readily and quickly replaced with renewables, which can also address several of the other non-electricity GHG-emitting sectors. In 2013 alone, the world brought online 69 GW of solar PV and wind capacity.

If simple arithmetic escapes Hubbard's sanguine assertions as to the desirability and indispensability of nuclear power, also missing from his treatise is consideration of the blatant evidence of nuclear power being in long-term decline – long before Fukushima. The nuclear share of the world's electricity generation has declined steadily from a historic peak of 17.6% in 1996 to 10.8% in 2013.

Nuclear power and renewables in China

Even in China, which has the most ambitious nuclear power programme in the world and is the poster child for nuclear boosters, including Prof. Hubbard, more renewable electricity capacity was brought online than nuclear and fossil fuels combined in 2013. This is also reflected in a new assessment by the OECD's International Energy Agency. During 2000–2013, global investment in power plants was split between renewables (57%), fossil fuels (40%) and nuclear power (3%).

China set the world record for solar PV implementation in one year at 12 GW (compared with 3 GW for nuclear) and as of the end of 2013 has more solar PV capacity than nuclear, and five times more wind power than nuclear – and the gap between renewables and nuclear in China keeps increasing. China sees electricity generation capacity as a portfolio enterprise and is clearly putting vastly more bets on renewables than nuclear – as is the rest of the world. China's plan is for 58 GW of nuclear capacity by 2020, but wind alone already exceeded this capacity last year.

Hubbard uses optimistic projections of 300–500 GW nuclear capacity in China by 2050, but doesn't divulge that these have been promoted by the industry itself and have not been approved by the government and are certainly not government policy.

Furthermore, rapid technological advances are also making low-carbon alternatives to nuclear power appear more attractive. Bloomberg New Energy Finance, an industry publisher, forecasts that onshore wind will be the cheapest way to make electricity in China by 2030.

Nuclear output accounts for only 4.4% of global energy consumption, the smallest share since 1984. Renewable energy, on the other hand, provided an estimated 19% of global final energy consumption in 2012 (electricity, heating, transport) and continued to grow in 2013. Of this total share in 2012, modern renewables accounted for approximately 10%, with the remainder (estimated at just over 9%) coming from traditional biomass. Heat energy from modern renewable sources accounted for an estimated 4.2% of total final energy use; hydropower made up about 3.8% and an estimated 2% was provided by power from wind, solar, geothermal and biomass, as well as by biofuels.

Nuclear safety

Hubbard writes off concerns of nuclear safety in the industry with the circular assertion 'safe because it must be' (although the Fukushima disaster, which he analyses in detail using the excellent independent report of the Japanese Diet which declared the 'myth of nuclear safety', actually contradicts his assertion).

Hubbard insists on using China as an exemplar of nuclear safety, yet his research is wanting. Philippe Jamet, a French nuclear safety commissioner, told his country's parliament earlier last year that Chinese counterparts were 'overwhelmed'. Wang Yi of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, an expert body, has warned that there are indeed 'uncertainties' in China's approach to nuclear safety.

Hubbard doesn't even touch on the proliferation hazards of an expansion of the nuclear industry (Iran is clearly an inconvenient truth); waves away nuclear waste disposal problems (science will fix it); and fudges the (increasingly deteriorating) economics of nuclear power (conveniently absent is the fact that private investors haven't put a cent into nuclear power for decades, unlike renewables).

Furthermore, Hubbard's description of new Generation IV and small modular reactors (these apparently will solve all major problems, e.g. waste, proliferation, accidents) might as well be no more than a cut and paste from a nuclear reactor sales brochure, in its lack of any critical appraisal of these fantasy claims. These designs are literally still only on paper with no track record, and won't be implemented for decades – if at all (too bad for GHG abatement).

The UK Government's Nuclear National Laboratories have released several reports stating that purported benefits of these new-generation reactors are at best overstated. Furthermore, proliferation hazards abound from proposals to use up existing plutonium stocks in these reactors (it needs to be converted to the bomb-ready metallic form first). Their safety is also questionable despite claims to the contrary, as their designs contravene the 'Defence in Depth' principles of nuclear safety of most nuclear regulators (most lack proper secondary containment, especially small modular reactors). In other words, they might never be licensed because they are not safe.

The author's forte is not radiation science and it shows. He lacks an understanding of the various world bodies involved in nuclear power and radiation science. This is disappointing for someone who claims expertise in the nuclear sector. For example, the IAEA is not a global regulatory body, as he claims, but an advisory body that member states join to provide guidance on implementation of nuclear activities. It has no legal jurisdiction to investigate or advise any member state without an invitation by the relevant member state.

The IAEA does have teeth to investigate suspected clandestine-prohibited proliferation-sensitive nuclear-cycle activities, but cannot impose itself (Iran is a case in point) without permission – hardly the global cop the author seems to think it is.

It is the member states themselves which regulate their own nuclear activities. This distinction is critical because it means nuclear safety is dependent on member states willingly implementing international best practice, and furthermore, not engaging in clandestine weapons development. However, where there is a lack of transparency and accountability − the two main principles of nuclear safety − safety is compromised. It is noteworthy that the main countries expanding their nuclear industries are those which rank low on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.

It is difficult to reconcile the author's views with the real world. The author engages in wishful, uncritical, almost magical thinking on a grand scale in its blandishments of the nuclear power industry.

1. IPCC. 2014. "Summary for Policymakers." In Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Edited by C. B. Field et al., pp.1–32.

Abridged from Medicine, Conflict and Survival, March 2015,

China's nuclear power plans: safety and security challenges

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green − Nuclear Monitor editor

China is pushing ahead with ambitious plans to expand nuclear power, but the risks are daunting.

China's State Council published the 'Energy Development Strategy Action Plan, 2014-2020' in November. The plan envisages an expansion of nuclear power from 19.1 gigawatts (GW) of currently installed capacity to 58 GW by 2020, with another 30 GW under construction by then. It says that efforts should be focused on promoting the use of large pressurised water reactors (including the AP1000 and CAP1400 designs), high temperature gas-cooled reactors, and fast reactors.1

Ambitious targets for renewables have also been set: 350 GW of hydro capacity by 2020, 200 GW of wind power capacity, and 100 GW of solar capacity. 1 Thus the renewable target of 650 GW greatly exceeds the 58 GW nuclear target. In 2013, for the first time, China added more new renewable capacity than new fossil and nuclear capacity.2

Chinese authorities have a history of failing to meet nuclear power forecasts:

  • In 1985, authorities forecast 20 GW in 2000 but the true figure was 2.2 GW (11% of the forecast).3
  • In 1996, authorities forecast 20 GW in 2010 but the true figure was 8.4 GW (42% of the forecast). 3
  • In late 2012, China revised its plan to have 50 GW of nuclear capacity installed by 2015 down to 40 GW − and the true figure will be around half that.4

The Economist noted in a December 6 article that plans for a massive nuclear expansion should be taken with "a big pinch of salt" and added: "It is true that China is the brightest spot in the global nuclear industry, but that is mostly because prospects in other places are bleak."5

Claims by industry bodies − such as the World Nuclear Association's forecast of 150 GW of nuclear capacity in China by 20306 − should also be taken with a pinch of salt.

In 2010, Chinese officials forecast 130 GW of installed nuclear capacity by 2020 − more than double the current forecast. And the State Council Research Office's 2011 forecast of 70 GW by 2020 has been reduced to 58 GW.2

It is unlikely that the 58 GW target can be reached by 2020. It assumes no closures of the 22 operating reactors, completion of all 27 reactors (29 GW) under construction, and completion of 10 GW that has yet to begin construction − all in the space of six years.


The South China Morning Post noted in a September 2014 article that "China will have to overcome some big hurdles, including conflicts of interest among large state-owned companies, technological uncertainties in new-generation power plants and public concerns about nuclear safety." The newspaper quotes a China Institute of Atomic Energy expert who argues that a shortage of scientists and engineers poses a "major challenge".7

Plans for inland nuclear plants have been delayed by public opposition (especially in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster), water shortages and other problems. Even the latest plan calls for nothing more than feasibility studies regarding inland plants.

A 2011 report from the State Council Research Office stated that nuclear development would require new investment of around US$150 billion (€121b) by 2020, on top of the costs of plants already under construction. The Office noted that new nuclear projects rely mainly on debt, funds are tight, and "investment risks cannot be discounted". Supply chain problems and bottlenecks could result in delays and further cost increases, the report noted.8

Safety first?

Numerous insiders have warned about inadequate nuclear safety and regulatory standards in China. He Zuoxiu, a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said last year that "to reduce costs, Chinese designs often cut back on safety".9

Li Yulun, a former vice-president of China National Nuclear Corporation, said last year that Chinese "state leaders have put a high priority on [nuclear safety] but companies executing projects do not seem to have the same level of understanding."10

Cables released by WikiLeaks in 2011 highlighted the secrecy of the bidding process for nuclear power plant contracts in China, the influence of government lobbying, and potential weaknesses in management and regulatory oversight. Westinghouse representative Gavin Liu was quoted in a cable as saying: "The biggest potential bottleneck is human resources – coming up with enough trained personnel to build and operate all of these new plants, as well as regulate the industry."11

In August 2009, the Chinese government dismissed and arrested China National Nuclear Corporation president Kang Rixin in a US$260 million (€209m) corruption case involving allegations of bid-rigging in nuclear power plant construction.12


In 2011, Chinese physicist He Zuoxiu warned that "we're seriously underprepared, especially on the safety front" for a rapid expansion of nuclear power. Qiang Wang and his colleagues from the Chinese Academy of Sciences noted in 2011 that China "still lacks a fully independent nuclear safety regulatory agency"13, and they noted that China's nuclear administrative systems are fragmented among multiple agencies; and China lags behind the US, France, and Japan when it comes to staff and budget to oversee operational reactors.14

The 2011 report by the State Council Research Office recommended that the National Nuclear Safety Administration "should be an entity directly under the State Council Bureau, making it an independent regulatory body with authority."8

China's nuclear safety agency is still not independent. And there are other problems: salaries for regulatory staff are lower than in industry, and workforce numbers remain relatively low. The State Council Research Office report said that most countries employ 30−40 regulatory staff per reactor, but China's nuclear regulator had only 1000 staff.8

In 2010, an International Atomic Energy Agency team carried out an Integrated Regulatory Review Service mission and said the review provided "confidence in the effectiveness of the Chinese safety regulatory system."8 Which just goes to prove that the IAEA sometimes says the silliest things − and in the process implicitly endorses and encourages sub-standard practices.

The Economist argued on December 6: "[T]he headlong rush to nuclear power is more dangerous and less necessary than China's government admits. One of the main lessons of Fukushima was that politicised, opaque regulation is dangerous. China's rule-setting apparatus is also unaccountable and murky, and ambitious targets for a risky technology should ring warning bells."15

Nuclear technology options

The Economist points to risks arising from China's approach to nuclear technology options:

"China's approach to building capacity has added to the risk of an accident. Rather than picking a single proven design for new reactors from an experienced vendor and replicating it widely, the government has decided to "indigenise" Western designs. The advantage of this approach is that China can then patent its innovations and make money out of selling them to the world; the downside is that there are now several competing designs promoted by rival state-owned enterprises, none of which is well tested.

"China should slow its nuclear ambitions to a pace its regulators can keep up with, and build its reactors using the best existing technology − which happens to be Western. That need not condemn it to more sooty, coal-fired years. The cost of renewable energy is dropping quickly and its efficiency is rising sharply. Last year, over half of all new power-generation capacity installed in China was hydro, wind or solar. If China wants to accelerate its move away from coal, ramping up those alternatives yet more would be a lot safer."15

Liu Baohua, the head of the nuclear office at the National Energy Administration, recently said that key technology and equipment being deployed in China's nuclear program is "still not completely up to standard". Liu said: "The third-generation reactors now under construction still have problems with the pumps and valves, and with the inflexibility of the design. ... We are working to resolve these problems and the overall situation is still under control." He said more needed to be done to improve the regulatory framework and to train nuclear personnel.16

The '12th 5-year Plan for Nuclear Safety and Radioactive Pollution Prevention and Vision for 2020', produced by the Ministry of Environment and endorsed by the State Council, said that China needed to spend US$13 billion (€10.4b) to improve nuclear safety at over the three years to 2015. The document states that "China has multiple types of nuclear reactors, multiple technologies and multiple standards of safety, which makes them hard to manage."8

China continues to build large numbers of 'Generation II' reactors which lack the safety features of more modern designs. The State Council Research Office report said that reactors built today should operate for 50 or 60 years, meaning a large fleet of Generation II reactors will still be in operation into the 2070s, when even Generation III reactors may have been superceded.8


The EPR reactors under construction at Taishan illustrate some of the problems and risks associated with China's nuclear program. "It's not always easy to know what is happening at the Taishan site," Stephane Pailler from France's Autorite de Surete Nucleaire (ASN) said in an interview this year. "We don't have a regular relationship with the Chinese on EPR control like we have with the Finnish," she said, referring to Finland's troubled EPR reactor project.

Philippe Jamet, one of ASN's five governing commissioners, testified before the French Parliament in February. "Unfortunately, collaboration isn't at a level we would wish it to be," he said. "One of the explanations for the difficulties in our relations is that the Chinese safety authorities lack means. They are overwhelmed."17

In March, EDF's internal safety inspector Jean Tandonnet noted problems evident during a mid-2013 visit to Taishan, including inadequacies with large components like pumps and steam generators which were "far" from the standards of the EPR plants in Finland and France.17

Tandonnet urged corrective measures and wrote that studies "are under way on tsunami and flooding risks."17 has assessed nuclear plants most at risks from a tsunami. Globally, it found that 23 nuclear power plants with 74 reactors are in high-risk areas. The riskiest country is China − of the 27 reactors under construction, 17 are located in areas considered at risk of tsunamis.18

Little information has been published about the Taishan reactor project − and the same could be said about many others. Albert Lai, chairman of The Professional Commons, a Hong Kong think tank, said this year that the workings of China's nuclear safety authority are a ''total black box'' and ''China has no transparency whatsoever.''17

Insurance and liability arrangements

The Economist recently noted that Communist leaders are "keenly aware that a big nuclear accident would prompt an ugly − and, in the age of viral social media, nerve-wrackingly unpredictable − public backlash against the ruling party."5

The backlash would be all the more virulent because of grossly inadequate insurance and liability arrangements. Chinese authorities are slowly developing legislation which may improve the situation. Currently, liability caps are the lowest in the world. Nuclear plant operators must have insurance that covers financial losses and injuries up to 300 million yuan (US$48.5m; €39m). If a legitimate claim exceeds that amount, the central government may provide up to 800 million yuan (US$129m; €104m) extra.19

Closing the fuel cycle, increasing the risks

China's attempt to develop a closed fuel cycle will increase safety and security risks as discussed in an October 2014 paper by Hui Zhang, a physicist and a research associate at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.20

In 2010, China conducted a 10-day hot test at its pilot reprocessing plant, where it is also building a pilot MOX fuel fabrication facility. The China National Nuclear Corporation plans to build a medium-scale demonstration reprocessing plant by 2020, followed by a larger commercial reprocessing plant.

Hui Zhang notes that the pilot reprocessing plant lacks an integrated security system. He notes that the 2010 hot test revealed problems: "Although reprocessing operations stopped after only ten days, many problems, including safety and security issues, were encountered or identified. These included both a very high amount of waste produced and a very high measure of material unaccounted for or MUF."

If the closed fuel cycle plans proceed, the long-distance shipment of MOX fuels and metal plutonium fuels will pose major security concerns.

Hui Zhang argues that "China has no convincing rationale for rushing to build commercial-scale reprocessing facilities or plutonium breeder reactors in the next couple of decades, and a move toward breeders and reprocessing would be a move away from more secure consolidation of nuclear materials."

China ranks poorly in the NTI Nuclear Materials Security Index − it is in the bottom fifth of the countries ranked. The NTI summarises: "China's nuclear materials security conditions could be improved by strengthening its laws and regulations for the physical security of materials in transport to reflect the latest IAEA nuclear security guidelines, and for mitigating the insider threat, particularly by requiring personnel to undergo more stringent and more frequent vetting and by requiring personnel to report suspicious behavior to an official authority. China's nuclear materials security conditions also remain adversely affected by its high quantities of weapons-usable nuclear materials, political instability, governance challenges, and very high levels of corruption among public officials."21


1. WNN, 20 Nov 2014, 'China plans for nuclear growth',
2. World Nuclear Industry Status Report, 2014,
3. ACF, 2012, 'Yellowcake Fever: Exposing the Uranium Industry's Economic Myths',
4. Keith Bradsher, 24 Oct 2012, 'China Slows Development of Nuclear Power Plants',
5. 6 Dec 2014, 'Promethean perils',
6. World Nuclear Association, 9 December 2014, 'Nuclear Power in China',
7. Stephen Chen, 14 Sept 2014, 'China plans to be world leader in nuclear power by 2020', South China Morning Post,
8. World Nuclear Association, 9 December 2014, 'Nuclear Power in China',
9. He Zuoxiu, 19 March 2013, 'Chinese nuclear disaster "highly probable" by 2030',
10. South China Morning Post, 7 Oct 2013, 'China nuclear plant delay raises safety concern',
11. Jonathan Watts, 25 Aug 2011, 'WikiLeaks cables reveal fears over China's nuclear safety',
12. Keith Bradsher, 15 Dec 2009, 'Nuclear Power Expansion in China Stirs Concerns',
13. David Biello, 16 Aug 2011, 'China's nuclear ambition powers on',
14. 22 June 2011, 'China needs improved administrative system for nuclear power safety',
15. 6 Dec 2014, 'China's rush to build nuclear power plants is dangerous',
16. Reuters, 5 Dec 2014, 'China's new nuclear technology not yet fully up to standard, energy official says',
17. Tara Patel and Benjamin Haas, 20 June 2014, 'Nuclear Regulators 'Overwhelmed' as China Races to Launch World's Most Powerful Reactor',
18. Oil Price, 4 Nov 2014,
19. 26 April 2014, 'What if China has a Fukushima?',
See also WNN, 16 Sept 2014, 'Insurers can help improve the image of nuclear',
20. Hui Zhang, 8 Oct 2014, 'The Security Risks of China's Nuclear Reprocessing Facilities',
21. NTI Nuclear Materials Security Index, 2014,

A cricketing ally, but will India play a straight bat on Aussie uranium?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Ian Lowe − Emeritus Professor, School of Science at Griffith University

Behind the flag-waving and cheers surrounding Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent visit to Australia are serious questions about the safety and security implications of Australia's agreement to supply uranium to New Delhi.1

When he inked the uranium deal in India in September, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott praised India's "absolutely impeccable non-proliferation record".2 He refused to answer questions about alleged serious deficiencies in India's civil nuclear sector and was reduced to cliché, declaring that Australia and India trust each other on issues like uranium safeguards because of "the fundamentally ethical principle that every cricketer is supposed to assimilate – play by the rules and accept the umpire's decision".3

Yet despite the assurances of peaceful purposes, this deal has serious nuclear security implications. After all, India has form. It used Canadian peaceful nuclear technology to develop weapons, provoking Pakistan to follow suit. Even if all goes well – and in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster that is a big assumption – Australian sales could potentially free up India's domestic uranium stocks for military use.

Whatever happens, the new deal certainly won't reduce the continuing tension with nuclear rival Pakistan, or promote nuclear non-proliferation.

Checks and balances

India is a nuclear-armed nation that has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and as such is not subject to the (admittedly fragile) checks and balances provided by full international nuclear safeguards. It is engaged in an active nuclear weapons program, has an estimated 80-100 nuclear warheads, and explicitly refuses to renounce nuclear testing.

Contrary to Abbott's statement, India is neither playing by the rules nor recognising the authority of the international umpire. Add these facts together and the plan to sell Australian uranium to India is in clear and direct conflict with Australia's international obligations under the South Pacific Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty,4 which says: "States Parties are obliged not to manufacture or otherwise acquire, possess, or have control over any nuclear explosive device anywhere inside or outside the Treaty zone; not to seek or receive any assistance in this; not to take any action to assist or encourage the manufacture or acquisition of any nuclear explosive device by any State; and not to provide sources or special fissionable materials or equipment to any non-nuclear weapon State (NNWS), or any nuclear weapon State (NWS) unless it is subject to safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency."

Prime Minister Modi is intent on expanding India's civil and military nuclear ambitions but there are big question marks around the safety and security arrangements for India's nuclear sector. In 2012 a scathing report by India's then Auditor-General Vinod Rai warned of a "Fukushima or Chernobyl-like disaster if the nuclear safety issue is not addressed".5

The issues identified in this frank assessment from one of India's own senior officials have not been addressed, and there is no guarantee that they ever will be. The safety of India's nuclear reactors remains shaky, because the sector's regulation and governance is deficient. As we have seen with Fukushima and Chernobyl, the cost of errors or accidents can be catastrophic.

Australian uranium's role

Fukushima is a continuing nuclear crisis that has been directly fuelled by Australian uranium, so its lessons are significant. If Japan, the world's third-largest economy and a nation steeped in technological expertise, could not control the atomic genie, it bodes poorly for the application of this technology in other countries. In the aftermath of Fukushima, instead of opening up uranium exports to insecure and conflict-prone regions, we should tread more carefully.

With Australia's renewable energy expertise and resources, we are perfectly placed to turn on the lights in Indian villages while ensuring that the Geiger counter stays off.

The deal has even prompted doubts among pro-nuclear commentators. For two decades until 2010, John Carlson6 was director general of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office7 and charged with overseeing Australian uranium sales. Now he has raised serious concerns, including his worry that Australia may be unable to keep track of what happens to uranium once it's sold to India.8

As Carlson makes clear, without proper reporting Australia has no way of knowing whether India is really meeting its obligations to identify and account for all the material that is subject to the agreement, and to apply Australia's safeguard standards. It is not good enough simply to take India on trust as a fellow cricket-mad nation, or to appeal to an "impeccable" non-proliferation record that it doesn't actually have.

Carlson's assessment is that the planned deal is short-sighted, self-defeating, and compromises Australia's standards. That warning should ring loud alarms in Canberra. The deal has yet to be examined by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.9 The rigour that the committee brings to this issue will be a test of whether radioactive rhetoric or real-world responsibility is in the ascendency in Canberra.

Uranium is not just another mineral. It fuels nuclear reactors and devastating weapons. Whether used for electricity or bombs, it inevitably produces radioactive waste that must be stored for geological timescales.

As home to around a third of the world's uranium supply, Australia's decisions on this issue matter. It is important that those flagging concerns are listened to just as much as those waving flags.



Indian government cautious about nuclear power

India's Power, Coal and Renewable Energy Minister Piyush Goyal said on November 6 that the government remains "cautious" about developing nuclear power. He pointed to waning interest in the US and Europe: "This government would like to be cautious so that we are not saddled with something only under the garb of clean energy or alternate energy; something which the West has discarded and is sought to be brought to India."1

Goyal noted that India's Nuclear Liability Law remains an obstacle to nuclear vendor countries and companies. That law does not fully absolve vendors of liability in the event of an accident. Asked if a breakthrough on the liability dispute was possible ahead of President Obama's January 2015 visit to India, US Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal recently said: "I see there is a lot of hard work ahead and I would not be sanguine about announcing any early breakthrough. What is required right now is not a lot of unrealistic expectations."2

The Hindustan Times reported on November 30 that the Indian government is working on a plan to weaken the liability law. Options include setting up an insurance pool, fixing a limit on reactor components for the purpose of determining liability, and the PM providing a personal assurance that vendors won't be harassed unnecessarily in the event of an accident.5

An article in The Hindu newspaper notes that three factors have put a break on India's reactor-import plans: "the exorbitant price of French- and U.S.-origin reactors, the accident-liability issue, and grass-roots opposition to the planned multi-reactor complexes."3

Meanwhile, The Times of India reports that US investment in nuclear power in India remains far off. In addition to unresolved liability issues, India and the US are yet to complete administrative arrangements concerning safeguards and non-proliferation assurances. The US is reportedly is demanding fresh bilateral safeguards in the nature of non-proliferation assurances, and the two countries have yet to agree on matters regarding the tracking of nuclear fuel through the entire cycle.4


1. 6 Nov 2014, 'Govt cautious about tapping nuclear energy for power generation',
2. 28 Nov 2014, 'U.S. plays hardball with India on nuclear deal',
3. Brahma Chellaney, 19 Nov 2014, 'False promise of nuclear power',
4. Indrani Bagchi, 19 Nov 2014, 'American officials put up hurdles, try to scuttle India-US nuclear deal',
5. 30 Nov 2014, ''Govt plans N-revival, focuses on investor concerns',

International Energy Agency's 'World Energy Outlook'

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) − a self-described autonomous organisation with 29 member countries − has released its latest World Energy Outlook (WEO) report.1

In the central scenario of WEO, world primary energy demand is 37% higher in 2040 compared to 2013, and energy supply is divided into four almost equal parts: low-carbon sources (nuclear and renewables), oil, natural gas and coal. Electricity is projected to be the fastest-growing final form of energy − WEO states that 7,200 gigawatts (GW) of power capacity needs to be built by 2040. Global investment in the power sector amounts to US$21 trillion (€16.8t), with over 40% in transmission and distribution networks. CO2 emissions from the power sector rise from 13.2 gigatonnes (Gt) in 2012 to 15.4 Gt in 2040, maintaining a share of around 40% of global emissions over the period. Fossil fuels continue to dominate the power sector, but their share of generation declines from 68% in 2012 to 55% in 2040.

Nuclear growth?

WEO notes that nuclear power accounts for 11% of global electricity generation, down from a peak of almost 18% in 1996. There is "no nuclear renaissance in sight" according to the IEA. In the WEO 'Low Nuclear Case', global nuclear capacity drops by 7% between 2013 and 2040. In the 'New Policies Scenario', nuclear capacity rises by 60% to 624 GW. This is the net result of 380 GW of capacity additions and 148 GW of retirements. Just four countries account for most of the projected nuclear growth in the 'New Policies Scenario': China (132 GW increase), India (33 GW), South Korea (28 GW) and Russia (19 GW). Generation increases by 16% in the US, rebounds in Japan (although not to the levels prior to the accident at Fukushima Daiichi) and falls by 10% in the European Union. The number of countries operating power reactors increases from 31 in 2013 to 36 in 2040. Needless to say, the projected growth in the New Policies Scenario is speculative and unlikely. Historically, low projections from bodies such as the IEA and the IAEA tend to be more accurate than high projections.2

WEO states that nuclear growth will be "concentrated in markets where electricity is supplied at regulated prices, utilities have state backing or governments act to facilitate private investment." Conversely, "nuclear power faces major challenges in competitive markets where there are significant market and regulatory risks, and public acceptance remains a critical issue worldwide."3 More than 80% of current nuclear capacity is in OECD countries but this falls to 52% in 2040 in the New Policies Scenario. Of the 76 GW presently under construction, more than three-quarters is in non-OECD countries.

A wave of reactor retirements

WEO states: "A wave of retirements of ageing nuclear reactors is approaching: almost 200 of the 434 reactors operating at the end of 2013 are retired in the period to 2040, with the vast majority in the European Union, the United States, Russia and Japan." WEO estimates the cost of decommissioning reactors to be more than US$100 billion (€80b) up to 2040. The report notes that "considerable uncertainties remain about these costs, reflecting the relatively limited experience to date in dismantling and decontaminating reactors and restoring sites for other uses." IEA chief economist Fatih Birol said: "Decommissioning of those power plants is a major challenge for all of us – for the countries that are pursuing nuclear power policies and for those who want to phase out their nuclear power plants. Worldwide, we do not have much experience and I am afraid we are not well-prepared in terms of policies and funds which are devoted to decommissioning. A major concern for all of us is how we are going to deal with this massive surge in retirements in nuclear power plants."4

Paul Dorfman of the Energy Institute at University College London noted that the US$100bn figure is only for decommissioning and does not include the costs of permanent waste disposal. "The UK's own decommissioning and waste disposal costs are £85bn alone, so that gives you an idea of the astronomical costs associated with nuclear," he said.5

Nuclear safety, waste and weapons

WEO notes: "Public concerns about nuclear power must be heard and addressed. Recent experience has shown how public views on nuclear power can quickly shift and play a determining role in its future in some markets. Safety is the dominant concern, particularly in relation to operating reactors, managing radioactive waste and preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Confidence in the competence and independence of regulatory oversight is essential ..." In the WEO high-growth New Policies Scenario, the cumulative amount of spent nuclear fuel that has been generated more than doubles, reaching 705,000 tonnes in 2040. The report notes that no country has yet established permanent facilities for the disposal of high-level radioactive waste from commercial reactors.

Nuclear power and climate change

WEO states that nuclear power "has avoided the release of an estimated 56 gigatonnes of CO2 since 1971, or close to two years of emissions at current rates." The claim is meaningless without a point of reference. Presumably the calculation is based on the arbitrary assumption that all nuclear power generation displaces generation from coal-fired power plants.

Renewable electricity generation

The share of renewables in total power generation rises from 21% in 2012 to 33% in 2040 in the New Policies Scenario, and renewables account for nearly half of new capacity. Renewable electricity generation nearly triples between 2012 and 2040, overtaking gas as the second-largest source of generation in the next couple of years and surpassing coal after 2035. China sees the largest increase in generation from renewables, more than the gains in the EU, US and Japan combined. Wind power accounts for the largest share of growth in renewables-based generation (34%), followed by hydropower (30%) and solar (18%). Biofuels use more than triples. Advanced biofuels, which help address sustainability concerns about conventional biofuels, gain market share after 2020, making up almost 20% of biofuels supply in 2040. Global subsidies for renewables amounted to US$121 billion (€97b) in 2013 and are anticipated to increase to nearly US$230 billion (€184b) in 2030 in the New Policies Scenario, before falling to $205 billion (€164b) in 2040. In 2013, almost 70% of subsidies to renewables for power were provided in just five countries: Germany, the US, Italy, Spain and China.

Fossil-fuel subsidies totalled $550 billion (€439b) in 2013 – 4.5 times greater than subsidies for renewables – and are holding back investment in efficiency and renewables. For example, in the Middle East, nearly 2 mb/d of crude oil and oil products are used to generate electricity when, in the absence of subsidies, renewables would be competitive with oil-fired power plants. Energy efficiency slows energy demand growth. Without the cumulative impact of energy efficiency measures, oil demand in 2040 would be 22% higher, gas demand 17% higher and coal demand 15% higher.


2. See for example tables 33 and 34, p.56,

Dangerous hypocrisy of Dutch nuclear legislation

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Evert van Amerongen − mechanical engineer, metallurgist, and whistleblower

Why do you bother, you will die sometime! That was the incredible remark of the employer when the link was made between my health problems and the handling of small industrial cobalt-56 point sources in 1983. The same can be said about the attitude of legal authorities towards small point source type debris particles with very high activity concentration.

Involved radiation experts concluded that the cobalt-56 incident resulted from a failure to comply with safety regulations. The result was a complete depression of the body, heavy infection of the swollen hands, a lot of hair falling out, mouth infection, teeth loosened and falling out, liver disturbance, stomach aches, and intestinal bleedings. Despite still-existing health problems, it could have been worse − cobalt-56 is a beta-emitting radionuclide with a short half-life and relatively low radiotoxicity.

A criminal complaint was lodged. After 2.5 years of opposition, further prosecution was cancelled on the basis of expected changes in Dutch legislation in 1986. The activity concentration of small point sources was no longer limited. This exemption clause was in conflict with Euratom Council Directive 80/836.

A more dangerous issue in the public domain is the use of americium-241 point sources, which are freely available for purchase. Americium-241 is an artificial radioisotope which is produced in nuclear reactors. The small debris particles of americium-241 oxides − from radioactive Ionisation Chamber Smoke Detectors (ICSDs) − emit alpha radiation with very high activity concentration and very high radiotoxicity. Radioactive debris particles are included in the waste incineration component of the filling substances of asphalt. About 20% of the so-called "fine dirt" in the air along the roads is formed by the wear products of the asphalt and those oxide particles may be inhaled by members of the public. In physical contact with the well-blooded tissue of mucous membranes and lungs, this radioactive dust can cause fatal cancers.

Along with other small point sources, ICSDs were covered by the exemption clause in Dutch legislation. Much later, in 2006, the sale of ICSDs was banned in the Netherlands. Thus the Netherlands joined a small group of countries − including France, Luxemburg and Switzerland − banning ICSDs in favour of safe optical smoke detectors.

Still there are other problem areas, such as when steel waste scraps are recycled with radioactive oxide slag included in the recycled steel. Radioactive particles can become free when machining and can be inhaled.

Returning to my story − my exposure to cobalt-56 point sources in 1983 was the start of a very long road in politics. In 1987/88 the subject was discussed in the Dutch Parliament. The Minister of Environment did not give correct answers and he delegated the subject to Social Affairs and Employment because employment issues were involved. The chairman of the Committee of Petitions refused in the Second Chamber of Parliament to dispute the integrity of the expert institutes involved. The exemptions regarding activity concentrations of small point sources were used to avoid taking appropriate action.

On seven occasions, written questions regarding the activity concentration of small point sources were put in the Second Chamber, but still no correct answers were provided. Questions were also put in the Euro-Parliament, but a Dutch Director General on behalf of the Board of the European Committee protected the Dutch authorities.

In June 2000, the Dutch RIVM Institute released a report with estimates of radiation exposure from consumer goods. The result was bizarre − abnormal applications and handling of radioactive sources were not taken into account because they could not be implemented in an analytical model by these so-called scientists. So those issues were simply forgotten.

In the General Consultation − the formal discussion between the Parliament with the minister − in October 2001, the rigid attitude of the responsible officials in answering the Second Chamber could no longer be maintained and it resulted in the announcement of a prohibition of ICSDs which was eventually enforced in 2006.

The speaker of the Second Chamber noted with satisfaction that the additional exemption clause was no longer present in the new decree − after 15 year of arguing. The minister concluded: "It will be emphasized that the ICSD's are safe and that this ... is not inspired by unsafe considerations, etc. There is no reason for panic at all!"

However the minister agreed that risks associated with incorrect application and handling conditions could be an argument to hasten replacement of ICSDs. Is this ambiguous or what?! An information campaign to inform the public was later cancelled.

A whistleblower acting in the public interest is not appreciated by a multinational. It cost me my job as a mechanical engineer in the European Research Centre of a Swedish multinational in the Netherlands, my house and income.

Appreciation from the political system was also lacking, all the more so as the political system made dangerous errors time and time again. One of the links between corporate power and the inadequate political response was a Dutch senator who was also a member of the board of the Swedish multinational.

What's wrong with nuclear power?

There are many good reasons to oppose the use of nuclear energy. Nuclear power installations are vulnerable for accidents, incidents and attacks. Radioactive material can be disseminated. Radiation is harmfull and can, even in small quantities, be lethal. Contamination with radioactive material can make entire regions uninhabitable for thousands of years. 

Fukushima Fallout: Updates from Japan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Some of these news items are taken from the twice-weekly updates produced by Greenpeace International. You can subscribe to the updates at: or

Public health

Australian public health expert Assoc. Prof. Tilman Ruff has written an important, detailed article, titled 'A Public Health Perspective on the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster', in the Oct−Dec edition of the Asian Perspective journal. It neatly summarises recent (and not-so-recent) research regarding the health effects of ionising radiation and applies that knowledge to the case of Fukushima. We won't attempt to summarise a wide-ranging article here. One point that illustrates the risks: "To provide a perspective on these risks, for a child born in Fukushima in 2011 who was exposed to a total of 100 mSv of additional radiation in its first five years of life, a level tolerated by current Japanese policy, the additional lifetime risk of cancer would be on the order of one in thirty, probably with a similar additional risk of premature cardiovascular death."[1]

Tadamori Oshima, head of the government's task force on disaster reconstruction, says that a target to reduce contamination of land around the Fukushima plant to a level equivalent to annual exposure of 1 mSv may be "informally" relaxed. "After we bring ambient radiation (down) to between 5 to 10 millisieverts and complete the decontamination, we will take thorough measures to manage individuals' dosage and safeguard their health. But a new radiation target would be difficult to publish because it would create a big problem," he said. Radiation levels in the area vary greatly. For example, Tomioka, a township about 12 kms south of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, had ambient radiation levels equivalent to annual doses ranging from 1 to 50 millisieverts by March 2013.[2]

Hot spots

TEPCO said on December 2 it had found radioactive contamination 36,000 times permissible levels in water taken from an observation well. The readings were taken from the well east of reactor #2 and 40 metres from the sea. The contamination measured 1.1 million becquerels per litre. TEPCO says no major changes in the levels of radioactive contamination in the sea have been detected.[3]

TEPCO has also found extremely high radiation levels in an area near a ventilation pipe. TEPCO found the radiation levels − equivalent to exposure levels of up to 25 sieverts per hour − on a duct which connects reactor buildings and the 120-metre-tall ventilation pipe. The estimated radiation level is the highest ever detected outside reactor buildings. A TEPCO official said materials derived from melted nuclear fuel likely entered the piping during venting soon after the accident occurred in March 2011 and have remained there.[4,5]

Water worries

It has emerged that the water storage tanks that have caused so many problems this year were built in part by illegally hired workers. Workers were told to lie about being hired by third party brokers. "Even if we didn't agree with how things were being done, we had to keep quiet and work fast. People didn't have contracts, so when they weren't needed any more, they were cut immediately," said Yoshitatsu Uechi, a former Fukushima worker who lodged a complaint with labour authorities. His account was confirmed by other workers. One said: "Yes, we did a shoddy job. The quality of what we did was low, but what else would you expect? We had to race to finish up the tanks."[6,7]

A panel established by Japan's industry ministry has warned that plans to deal with the water crisis are still inadequate and that space to store contaminated water will run out in within two years if matters are not addressed. The panel made a number of suggestions including the construction of giant tanks and laying asphalt on the site to help prevent rainwater from entering the ground and flowing into the damaged reactor buildings where it is then contaminated. The panel also warned that some water storage tanks have been built on weak ground that could sink and their stability should be addressed.[8]

TEPCO is currently storing 390,000 tons of contaminated water, growing by several hundred tons each day. There is an ongoing discussion about partially decontaminating the water then releasing it into the Pacific Ocean. It is estimated that it will take at least seven years to partially decontaminate the water already being stored.[9]

Evacuees and decontamination

Japan's parliament passed a bill on December 4 extending the length of time victims of the Fukushima disaster have to claim compensation from three to ten years. The new legislation also says that a person can now claim compensation for any health problems resulting from the accident for 20 years after their symptoms appear rather than for 20 years after the accident occurred as was the case previously.[10,11]

Meanwhile, a science and technology ministry screening panel has compiled a plan to set a cap on compensation to residents who face prolonged evacuation, angering evacuees. The panel on disputes for nuclear damage compensation wants to set limits ranging from 10 million yen to 14 million yen ($97,000 to $136,000).[12]

A survey by Japan's Reconstruction Agency of people who were evacuated from two towns close to the Fukushima plant found that 67% of 2,760 households from Okuma and 65% of 1,730 households from Futaba have said they will not return to their homes. Those numbers are up from 42% and 30%, respectively, in a January survey, which used slightly different wording. Those surveyed cited fears about radiation exposure and the length of time the repopulation process was taking. The latest survey found that only 9% of respondents from Okuma and 10% from Futaba said they want to return.[13,14]

Many of those evacuated from towns close to Fukushima are still living in temporary accommodation. Occupancy rates of the temporary housing built in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures in the aftermath of the disaster are at 85%. "We haven't been making progress in building public housing for disaster victims and acquiring land for projects to relocate entire communities," an Iwate housing official said. "Family members live apart and it's no good. Since we can't go back to our hometown, this is like a living hell. Nothing will change even if we complain," said Yoichi Matsumoto, a resident in temporary accommodation in Iwaki. It is not expected that the situation will improve soon. "There is a strong likelihood that it may take five years or more after the quake to see all occupants move out," said an Iwate official.[15]

By the end of October, only 28.5% of houses, 33.2% of roads and 12.3% of forests around the Fukushima plant had been cleaned, according to the Fukushima Department of Environment. The Japanese government has extended the time-frame fpr the clean-up of the exclusion zone around the plant, initially due to be completed by March 2014, until 2017. Officials have cited several difficulties as reasons for pushing back the timetable, including finding space to store contaminated waste. Endo Kouzou, Supervisor for Decontamination Operations at the Fukushima Department of Environment, said: "It is very hard to earn support from locals in terms of where to put the contaminated materials. This is the biggest problem. Another thing is that, despite various decontamination operations, radiation cannot be eliminated once for all."[16]

State secrecy bill

The lower house of Japan's Parliament approved a state secrecy bill on November 27 that imposes stiffer penalties on bureaucrats who leak secrets and journalists who seek them. The bill was approved after hours of delay due to protests by opposition lawmakers. The bill allows heads of ministries and agencies to classify 23 vaguely worded types of information related to defense, diplomacy, counterintelligence and counterterrorism. Critics say it might sway authorities to withhold more information about nuclear power plants. Under the bill, leakers in the government face prison terms of up to 10 years, up from one year now. Journalists who obtain information "inappropriately" or "wrongfully" can get up to five years in prison.[17]

The legislation has triggered protests from Human Rights Watch, the International Federation of Journalists, the Federation of Japanese Newspapers Unions, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations and many other media watchdogs. Academics have signed a petition demanding it be scrapped.

Reporters Without Borders accused Japan of "making investigative journalism illegal". It said in a statement: "How can the government respond to growing demands for transparency from a public outraged by the consequences of the Fukushima nuclear accident if it enacts a law that gives it a free hand to classify any information considered too sensitive as a state secret?"[18]

During deliberations in November, Masako Mori, the minister in charge of the bill, admitted that security information on nuclear power plants could be designated a state secret because the information "might reach terrorists."[17,19]

Residents of Fukushima Prefecture are angry over the railroading of the bill through the lower house. At a public hearing in Fukushima on November 25, all of the seven local residents who were invited to state their opinions voiced opposition to or concerns about the bill.[20]

Elsewhere in Japan

More than 1,900 people have joined a law suit against Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) demanding the company permanently shut down its Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, western Japan. The suit was filed with the Kyoto District Court last November.[21]

[5] 7 Dec 2013, 'Record outdoor radiation level detected at Fukushima plant',
[7] Antoni Slodkowski, 5 Dec 2013, 'Insight - Fukushima water tanks: leaky and built with illegal labor',
[12] 10 Dec 2013, 'Panel sets limit on compensation to Fukushima evacuees',
[14] 7 Dec 2013, 'Over 60% of evacuees from Fukushima towns don't plan to return home',
[16] 4 Dec 2013, '1,000 days after Fukushima: residents of crisis zone frustrated by slow clean-up',
[17] David McNeill, 26 Nov 2013, 'Japan cracks down on leaks after scandal of Fukushima nuclear power plant',
[18] Justin McCurry, 6 Dec 2013, 'Japan whistleblowers face crackdown under proposed state secrets law',
[19] Mari Yamaguchi, 26 Nov 2013, 'Japan secrecy law stirs fear of limits on freedoms',
[20] 27 Nov 2013, 'Fukushima residents furious at lower house passage of contentious secrecy bill',