Commentary : The most dangerous nukes in Japan…NOT!

A group of nine anti-nuclear politicians have ranked the relative danger posed by nuclear plants in Japan. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the two alleged to be most dangerous are Oi units #3 & 4. Genpatsu Zero no Kai (Group for zero nuclear power), headed by former PM Naoto Kan with members from seven political parties in the Diet, say they drew their conclusion on a combination of factors including facility age, type of reactor system, type of containment structure, record of nuclear safety, potentially active faults near the plants, and population concentration. They acknowledge they based their rankings on a system previously used in Germany. (Asahi Shimbun; Kyodo News; Japan Times)

As objective as the group tries to make it seem, the rankings are simply based on current political issues combined with arbitrary assumptions. Of course, their hit list will be touted as unmitigated fact by the prophets of nuclear energy doom all over the world, but should be taken as little more than politically expedient speculation by a minor group of lawmakers exploiting their nation’s nuclear anxiety to gain increased exposure in the Press.

Kan’s Group has identified no less than a dozen plants, including two entire multi-unit nuclear power stations, which they feel should be barred from restart and dismantled as soon as possible. The two Oi units being listed as the most dangerous is no more than pandering to the present political problems surrounding their restarts. Most of the remaining plants earmarked for immediate abolition are either approaching the operational age of 40 years, boiling water reactor systems similar to Fukushima Daiichi, near seismic faults the plants were allegedly not built to accommodate, or all three. First, there’s no scientific evidence that a 40 year old nuke is suddenly too-deteriorated to be safe. The 40-year limit on nuclear operation is arbitrary and not based on sound engineering research. In fact, research on nukes in the west shows them to be of sufficient integrity for license extensions of up to 20 years beyond their current 40-year licensures. There’s considerable reputable speculation that most existing plants will live to be over 100. These babies were built to last.

Second, there’s nothing inherently dangerous about either a boiling water or pressurized water reactor system. The emphasis of the Group’s listing being on BWRs is capricious and grounded in guilt-by-association…Fukushima was a BWR plant, so all BWRs are too risky to operate.

Thirdly, the focus on earthquakes in the Group’s rankings is an obvious attempt to avoid the true cause of the Fukushima accident…the 40-foot high tsunami. All allegations of the 3/1/11 quake-itself causing critical damage to the F. Daiichi safety and cooling systems are assumptive and phantasmagorical. There is no hard, conclusive evidence of any quake damage to any emergency system at F. Daiichi! Keep in mind that F.Daiichi’s design criterion for earthquakes is ~7.8 Richter scale, but it safely survived a quake some 20 times more powerful on 3/11/11. Like I said earlier, these babies were built to last.

The nuclear power stations alleged to be too dangerous to operate are the three units at Hamaoka and the six at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa. The Hamaoka NPS is high on the hit list because of its proximity to Tokyo and its having been ear-marked for shuttering early-on by Group leader Kan, who suddenly became anti-nuclear during the accident and feared he might have to evacuate Tokyo. He says his Hamaoka moratorium was due to inadequate seismic resistance. We now know he did it to soothe his personal fear of a nuclear apocalypse from Hamaoka, which is 100 kilometers nearer Tokyo than F. Faiichi. The Group’s inclusion of the Hamaoka NPS near the top of their hit list is in keeping with Kan’s eschatological nightmares and is obviously an effort to keep the level of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) at a high level in Japan’s capitol. As for the six units at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, they are said to be too dangerous because damage occurred to their emergency electrical systems due to a major earthquake in 2007 of 7.2 Richter scale. It doesn’t matter that the power station was closest of all Japanese nukes to the 9.0 Richter scale quake’s epicenter on 3/11/11. It doesn’t matter that the station suffered no safety system damage due to the quake which was at least 80 times more powerful than the one experienced in 2007.

The Diet Group’s nuclear hit list should not be given serious consideration. It is arbitrary, speculative, politically expedient, and clearly intended to keep Japan’s level of FUD at a fever pitch.

Now, for some other Fukushima-related news…

  • The highest radiation level to date has been measured inside F. Daiichi unit #1 torus room. Tepco staff inserted an endoscope and a mini-dosimeter through a drain hole in the ceiling above the suppression chamber. The insertion was tortuous because of what appears to be a small pipe and a cable inside the hole. At 4 meters above the water in the bottom of the room, the radiation level is about one sievert/hour (1000 millisieverts). At about 20 centimeters above the water level, the reading is a whopping 10.3 sieverts/hour (10,300 millisieverts). This is more than 10 times anything measured in either unit #2 or #3. Tepco had assumed all along that since the rad levels inside units #2&3 torus rooms made robots necessary, the same would be the case for unit #1. Tepco reports, “Workers cannot enter the site and we must use robots for the demolition.” TEPCO official Junichi Matsumoto added (as this blog has said for 15 months) that unit #1’s fuel core experienced the most severe damage of the three. (NHK World; Japan Today)
  • The Kansai Electric’s shareholder rejection of Osaka’s desire to abolish nuclear energy is a serious setback for Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s reputation as an effective antinuclear mayor. Because the city owns nearly 10% of Kepco stock, Hashimoto felt that would be enough to convince other major shareowners to follow suit. They didn’t. Immediately, Hashimoto shifted into a new mode of attacking the company. “At this rate, Kepco is going to end up bankrupt. Explanations about the future risk (of continuing with nuclear power) are insufficient,” Hashimoto said. He then posed questions about the problem of spent nuclear fuel and what would happen to Kepco’s costs if its 11 reactors were halted permanently. While sidestepping the waste issue, Kepco officials estimated that keeping the nukes off-line would result in an increase of 900 billion yen in annual fuel costs. These added costs would mean increased bills to the customers. (Japan Times)
  • The price of electricity in Japan continues to rise due to the moratorium on operating nukes. The situation is exemplified by TEPCO President Toshio Nishizawa, who said, “As we have increased thermal power generation [in place of nuclear power generation], our fuel costs have soared. In light of this, we have to raise electricity rates so our customers can help shoulder the costs.” In contrast, local officials feel there has been little evidence to support the soaring rates. Tokyo Vice Gov. Naoki Inose says Tepco “has not sufficiently explained why the rate should be raised, while its corporate streamlining efforts are just not good enough.” (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • Some stalwarts in the Diet continue to deny the government’s responsibility for making the Fukushima accident possible. “There is no way [for the government] to support TEPCO, which is responsible for the crisis,” a ruling Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker said. (Yomiuri Shimbun) comment – In other words, it’s all Tepco’s fault? Who do they think they are kidding?
  • Another week, another protest in front of the prime minister’s office. Anticipating the Sunday restart of Oi unit #3, thousands of anti-nuclear supporters marched on Friday to demand the preparations for operations be stopped immediately. The crowd displayed banners of “No Nukes” and “Nuclear era is over!” Duncan Callister is a 63-year-old American who joined the protest who said, “This isn’t just Japan’s problem. It’s an international problem.” Protest organizers estimated attendance to be 45,000, but police said the actual attendance was much lower. (Kyodo News)