Nuclear Power in Japan; Prescient Voices From the Past Catch Up With the Present

I thought I’d reference some older snippets from articles that I found with background and warnings about nuclear reactors and power companies in Japan, some of them eerily prescient …

An LA Times article from 1988 explains how government intervention has incentivized the production of nuclear energy in Japan:

Strong financial resources, combined with government-set rate structures that guarantee a “fair return” of 7.2% on capital investment, largely insulate the nine major power companies from the economic woes that have bogged down nuclear plant construction in the United States.

Furthermore …

Hirose maintains that numerous minor accidents and operational problems over the past several years have gone largely unreported in the mainstream news media. Though shutdowns are rare, he believes these incidents belie the industry’s safety claims and foreshadow an eventual disaster on the scale of Chernobyl or Three Mile Island, in Pennsylvania.

Tamai, the industry federation official, rejects such criticism. Japanese nuclear plants have the best safety record in the world, he contends, with fewer than one-tenth the number of shutdowns of other countries and an enviable 76% average rate of operation.

To correct “distortions” advanced by Hirose and others, the federation has spent more than $5.6 million on newspaper advertising since this year’s Chernobyl anniversary in April, trying to reassure people that Japan’s water-cooled nuclear reactors are far safer than the graphite reactor in Chernobyl.

August 2004, Four workers die in Japanese nuclear plant accident:

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters: “We must put all our effort into determining the cause of the accident and to ensuring safety.” His government would respond “resolutely, after confirming the facts.”

However, a review of the events leading up to the accident and the history of other nuclear industry incidents over more than a decade reveals that far from “ensuring safety”, the government, together with the self-regulated nuclear power companies, is squarely to blame for the horrific deaths and injuries suffered at the KEPCO plant.

KEPCO admitted this week that the burst pipe had not been checked in the 28 years since the nuclear reactor began operating, even after a maintenance sub contractor notified it of the urgent need for inspection in November 2003. Further reports emerged that up to 17 such pipes at up to 10 other nuclear power plants operated by KEPCO throughout Japan have never been inspected.

March 2006, Nuclear reactor ordered shut by Japanese court:

A district court yesterday ordered the first shutdown of a nuclear reactor in Japan, saying the country’s second-largest reactor has a high risk of causing accidents and leaking radiation if an earthquake strikes, media reports said.

July 2007, Japan nuke plant leak bigger than thought:

The malfunctions and a delay in reporting them fueled concerns about the safety of Japan’s 55 nuclear reactors, which have suffered a string of accidents and cover-ups. Nuclear power plants around Japan were ordered to conduct inspections.

The plant in Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, 135 miles northwest of Tokyo, eclipsed a nuclear power station in Ontario as the world’s largest power station when it added its seventh reactor in 1997.

The Japanese plant, which generates 8.2 million kilowatts of electricity, has been plagued with mishaps. In 2001, a radioactive leak was found in the turbine room of one reactor.

The plant’s safety record and its proximity to a fault line prompted residents to file lawsuits claiming the government had failed to conduct sufficient safety reviews when it approved construction of the plant in the 1970s. But in 2005, a Tokyo court threw out a lawsuit filed by 33 residents, saying there was no error in the government safety reviews.

Environmentalists have criticized Japan’s reliance on nuclear energy as irresponsible in a nation with such a vulnerability to powerful quakes.

“This fire and leakage underscores the threat of nuclear accidents in Japan, especially in earthquake zones,” said Jan Beranek, a Greenpeace official in Amsterdam. “In principle, it’s a bad idea to build nuclear plants in earthquake-prone areas.”

July 2007, Japanese nuclear reactor under-designed for earthquake?

An earthquake off the western coast of Japan yesterday hit a nuclear plant with more than twice the jolt that the plant was expected to have to handle. The shock seems to have done little immediate damage, but has raised concerns about whether Japan’s nuclear plants are designed to withstand the kind of shaking they are likely to experience.

May 2009, Delays at Japan’s ill-fated nuclear plant:

“The failure to produce vitrified waste with domestic technology shows that Japan’s reprocessing technology is 10 to 20 years behind Europe and the United States,” Koide said.

The source at the Rokkasho plant agrees with Koide. “We have to accept that we were too optimistic from the beginning,” he said. He also said that JNFL should change its policy, whatever it takes, to solve the difficulties with the current furnace at Rokkasho.

One possible solution would be to use French technology, but the Japanese government is bent on developing its own technology and unlikely to choose that option. If the plant suspends operations for more than three years, as the source at Rokkasho suggests, then the situation will be more serious as Japan’s nuclear power policy is premised on reprocessing spent nuclear fuel at the plant.

May 2010, Japan reactivates repaired nuclear reactor:

The BBC said the accident that forced the shutdown resulted in no injuries and no release of radiation, but coming just two years after starting operation raised concerns about the safety of the plant. The plant’s operators were criticized for concealing the extent of damage to the reactor, the BBC said.

May 2010, Japan restarts controversial nuclear reactor

The proportion of the country’s energy generated from nuclear plants is to increase to 50 per cent from the current one third, and the utilization of the power plants is to increase from 60 per cent to 90 per cent of their generating capacity.

Monju is already decades behind its original schedule, and the government has so far poured some 900 billion yen (9.7 billion dollars) into the project.

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency expects to spend another 23 billion yen a year on the fast-breeder programme in the coming years. The government wants to complete the development of a commercial fast-breeder reactor by around 2050.

As always, the best thing we can do to ensure a safer future for ourselves and our offspring is listen to those who saw things coming before everyone else suddenly became an expert on the causes of such earthshaking events.

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