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Statement by Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency: 11 Years of Oblivion: An Alarming Abandonment of a Culture of Safety

March 3, 2022
NPO Nuclear Information and Documentation Center

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, several experts have stated that the use of nuclear energy should be promoted from the perspective of energy security. One of the most prominent is a statement made by Shiro Arai, President of the Japan Atomic Energy Industries Association (former Director of TEPCO Holdings and Deputy General Manager of the Nuclear Energy & Location Headquarters), at a regular press conference on February 25.

 I understand that some people think that nuclear power may act as a brake on the use of nuclear power,” he said. I understand that some people think it will act as a brake on the use of nuclear power, but the utility of nuclear power is very great. We have no choice but to make efforts through diplomatic efforts and improved international relations.”[i]

 Such opportunistic and disregard for human life is unacceptable. In particular, Chairman Arai’s statement is a sign of extreme danger. This is because it reveals the shallow nature of the nuclear safety culture that the nuclear industry claims to be working on.

 Operating nuclear power plants during wartime is extremely risky from a safety standpoint. This is even more so when one’s own territory is a battlefield. If the power grid is destroyed, external power sources will be lost. Diesel generators need fuel to operate, and in wartime, supplies are often disrupted. Although the Geneva Conventions prohibit attacks on nuclear power plants, there is a risk that the facilities could be destroyed by accidental fire. In the worst case, a deliberate attack could destroy the reactor. An attack on or evacuation of the operators would not only impede safe operation, but also make it impossible to cope with an accident. Massive radioactive contamination from a meltdown in a wartime situation would resemble a nuclear war.

In wartime, the best option to reduce the risk of nuclear power plants is to shut them down. We all know from the Fukushima Daiichi accident that cooling is required for a long period of time after shutdown, but control is still much easier than when the plant is operating.

Despite this, Energoatom, Ukraine’s nuclear corporation, operated 13 of its 15 nuclear reactors at its four sites until the 23rd, and as of March 1, when the invasion was underway, it was still operating nine of them. Even the Zaporizha nuclear power plant, which the Russians are closing in on, has three units in operation. If there were to be an accident, why would they operate at the risk of irreparable damage? The reason lies in Ukraine’s high dependence on nuclear power. If a nuclear power plant were to be shut down, Ukraine would not be able to compensate for the loss of power from other sources.

It is not just another country. Japan once had a 50% nuclear energy ratio, and today the government and nuclear industry are still aiming for 20-22%. Are we asking for more operations despite the fact that we have witnessed how huge the potential risks of war in a country with nuclear power plants are? Nuclear war is possible even without nuclear bombs, and this is what the situation in Ukraine confronts us with.

Chairman Arai is aware of this extremely dangerous relationship between nuclear power and war, yet he insists that nuclear power should be promoted because the benefits outweigh the risks. The commercial enterprises that operate nuclear power plants are supposed to make comparative choices among various power sources when using nuclear power, but while promoting nuclear power, he claims that the government, not the enterprises or the industry, should be responsible for the risks involved. The nuclear safety culture, according to the nuclear industry, is “an aggregate of the attitudes and characteristics (the way things are) in organizations and individuals in which ‘the issue of the safety of nuclear facilities is given the attention it deserves in terms of its importance as taking precedence over everything else'”[ii]. President Arai’s statement is a clear indication of how nuclear safety culture is an entity in name only.

What the tragedy in Ukraine shows is the danger of dependence on nuclear power. Nuclear power plants are a major risk to both security and energy security. Who should and can bear this risk? The question must be asked whether the citizens who will suffer the most serious damage will accept nuclear power, including the risks involved.


March 3, 2022 - Posted by | Nuclear | ,

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