Court sends a shockwave through Japan’s nuclear establishment with ruling on Fukushima accident.
A writing inside Ukedo elementary school, damaged by the March 11, 2011 tsunami, is seen near Tokyo Electric Power Co’s (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Namie town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, March 1, 2017.
Japan’s atomic power establishment is in shock following the court ruling on Friday that found the state and the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant liable for failing to take preventive measures against the tsunami that crippled the facility.
The reason for the shock is the ruling has wide-ranging implications for Japan’s entire nuclear power industry and the efforts to restart reactors throughout the country.
Judges in the Maebashi District Court in Gunma prefecture ruled that Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) and the government were aware of the earthquake and tsunami risks to the Fukushima Daiichi plant prior to the 2011 triple reactor meltdown, but failed to take preventative measures.
The decision was welcomed by the 137 Fukushima citizens who filed the lawsuit in 2014. What needs to be remembered is a further 28 civil and criminal lawsuits in 18 prefectures across Japan are pending. They involve more than 10,000 citizens and include a shareholder claim seeking compensation of 5.5 trillion yen (US$49 billion).
Map of Japan’s nuclear plants
Tepco is already a de facto bankrupt, has been effectively nationalized and now faces the unprecedented challenges of how to remove three melted reactors at the Fukushima plant.
Six years after the disaster it still faces unanswered questions about the precise causes of the accident, questions that have generated public opposition to Tepco restarting reactors at another plant in Kashiwazki-kariwa in Niigata prefecture, on the opposite coastline to Fukushima.
Beside the court ruling being yet another blow to Tepco’s efforts to recover from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the judgement will be highly disruptive to plans by the government and utilities to restart nuclear reactors in Japan.
In the court ruling, the judges found that science-based evidence of major risks to the nuclear plant was “foreseen” but ignored and not acted upon by Japan’s government and Tepco.
The evidence included a 2002 government assessment that concluded there was a 20% risk of a magnitude 8 or greater earthquake off the coast of northeastern Japan within 30 years. This includes the sea bed area off the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Further, the plaintiffs cited a 2008 internal Tepco report ‘Tsunami Measures Unavoidable’ which included the likelihood of a potential 15.7 meter tsunami hitting the Fukushima nuclear site.
The court ruled that if the government had used its regulatory powers to make Tepco take countermeasures, such as installing seawalls, against such an event, the nuclear disaster could have been avoided.
While the judges in Gunma prefecture have concluded that ignoring evidence of risk can have devastating consequences, that does not seem to be the approach of the nuclear utilities or the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA).
Over the last four years, the NRA has demonstrated a tendency to ignore evidence of risks to nuclear plants that have made applications to restart reactors shut down after the Fukushima disaster, and to bend to the demands of the nuclear power companies and the government.
A total of 26 reactors have applied for NRA review, of which seven have passed and four more will likely be approved this year.
In each case, the NRA has failed to apply a robust approach to assessing risks. It has chose to screen out seismic faults that threaten nuclear plants, failed to follow recommendations from international safety guidelines, and accepted selective evidence on volcanic risks.
In the case of the three forty-year old reactors at Takahama and Mihama, the NRA approved the reactors, while granting the utility an exemption from demonstrating that the reactors primary circuit can meet the 2013 post Fukushima revised safety guidelines, until a later date.
All of these safety issues have the potential when things go wrong — see Fukushima — to lead to severe accidents, including reactor core meltdown.
District courts have issued injunctions against reactor restarts in Fukui prefecture, and in a historic ruling in March 2016 a court in Shiga prefecture ordered the immediate shutdown of the Takahama 3 and 4 reactors.
An appeal court is scheduled to rule on the above in the coming weeks and while it is anticipated that the reactor owner Kansai Electric will likely win, the prospects of further legal action remains.
Next month, for example, the former deputy chair of the NRA, Kunihiko Shimazaki will testify in a lawsuit against the operation of the Ohi reactors owned by Kansai Electric in western Japan.
Shimazeki, emeritus professor of seismology at Tokyo University and the only seismologist to have been an NRA commissioner, has challenged the formulas used by the regulator in computing the scale of earthquakes, which he believes underestimates potential seismic impact by factor of 3.5.
Last July the NRA dismissed Professor Shimazeki’s evidence.
Six years after the start of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, only 3 of Japan’s reactors are currently operating out of the 54 available in 2011.
For any business that runs the risk of its principal cash-generating asset being shut down at any point and for an extended period through legal challenges, the future does not look bright — unless you are granted approval to disregard the evidence.
The utilities are hemorrhaging money and therefore run the risk of following the same path as Tepco prior to 2011 in prioritizing cost savings over safety.
Such an approach directly led to the bankruptcy of Tepco, one the worlds largest power companies, and liabilities of at least 21 trillion yen.
The nuclear industry and current government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe understand that to allow robust evidence of safety risks, in particular seismic, to determine the future of operation of reactors would mean the end of nuclear power in Japan.
Citizens from Fukushima with their lawyers and now supported by the judges, have moved Japan one step closer to that eventual scenario.
Shaun Burnie is a senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace Germany. He has worked on nuclear issues worldwide for more than three decades, including since 1991 on Japan’s nuclear policy. firstname.lastname@example.org
Karl Grossman is a full professor of journalism at the State University of New York College at Old Westbury. For more than 45 years he has pioneered the combination of investigative reporting and environmental journalism in a variety of media. He is the host of the nationally aired television program Enviro Close-Up, the narrator and host of award-winning TV documentaries on environmental and energy issues, the author of six books and writer of numerous magazine, newspaper and Internet articles.
He is program host and writer of TV documentaries produced by New York-based EnviroVideo including the award-winning Chernobyl: A Million Casualties, Three Mile Island Revisited, Nukes in Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens and The Push to Revive Nuclear Power.
He is chief investigative reporter for WVVH-TV on Long Island.
He is a regular contributor to Internet sites including CounterPunch, OpEd News, Enformable, NationofChange and The Huffington Post.
His weekly column appears in The Southampton Press, The East Hampton Press, The Sag Harbor Express, The Shelter Island Reporter, South Shore Press, Sound Observer and other Long Island newspapers and on websites on Long Island including Smithtown Matters, RiverheadLOCAL and SoutholdLOCAL.
His articles also appear on LIPolitics.com
Grossman was an investigative reporter as well as columnist for the Long Island Press, a major daily newspaper serving metropolitan New York and, with the demise of the paper in 1977, continued investigative journalism in books, magazines and newspapers, on radio and TV and, in recent years, on the Internet.
His books include: Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power; The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet; The Poison Conspiracy; and Weapons in Space.
He has given presentations at colleges and universities in the United States and abroad and before other venues including at the United Nations in New York and Geneva, the Russian Academy of Sciences and the British Parliament.
Awards he has received for investigative reporting include the George Polk, Generoso Pope, James Aronson and John Peter Zenger awards. He also has received citations from the New York Press Association, Press Club of Long Island, Society of Professional Journalists, Psychologists for Social Responsibility, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, New York Civil Liberties Union, Long Island Coalition for Fair Broadcasting, Citizens Energy Council and Friends of the Earth. His TV documentaries have received Gold and Silver awards at the WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival and other honors. His journalism has been repeatedly cited by Project Censored, the media initiative at Sonoma State University, as involving the most “under-reported” issues.
At the State University of New York College at Old Westbury he has taught courses including: Investigative Reporting; Environmental Journalism; Politics of Media; Introduction to Journalism; TV and Radio Journalism; and TV Documentary: Theories and Techniques. He also runs an Internship in Journalism and Media program placing students at media throughout metropolitan New York.
He was honored in 2003 at the State University of New York “Chancellor’s Recognition Dinner Honoring Research and Scholarship in the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.”
- Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power (1980)
- The Poison Conspiracy (1982)
- Nicaragua: America’s New Vietnam? (1984)
- Power Crazy:Is LILCO Turning Shoreham Into America’s Chernobyl? (1986)
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- Weapons in Space (2001)
Grossman’s articles have appeared in many magazines and newspapers including: The New York Times, USA Today, The Village Voice, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Miami Herald, The Globe and Mail, The Ecologist, Earth Island Journal, E: The Environmental Magazine, The Crisis, The Nation, The Progressive, The Baltimore Sun, The Plain Dealer. The Orlando Sentinel, Columbia Journalism Review, Liberal Opinion Week, Science Communication. The Globe and Mail, Z Magazine, San Francisco Bay Guardian, CovertAction Quarterly, The Miami Herald, Space News, and Extra!.
Among the Internet sites he contributes articles to are: CounterPunch, The Huffington Post, Enformable, CommonDreams, Truthout, Nation of Change and OpEd News.
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The most recent edition of Cover Up is available free online thanks to its publisher via . Grossman encourages its download and use of the material—notably facsimiles of government and industry documents useful in exposing the dangers of nuclear power—that the book contains.
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Nuclear businesses have seen a serious shortage of human resources since the March 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant
At a Tokyo job fair for the atomic energy industry on March 4, Kenta Kakitani, a graduate student at the University of Tokyo, hopes to some day become a nuclear plant design engineer.
But Kakitani may be a rare breed in Japan, where nuclear businesses have seen a serious shortage of new talent since the March 11, 2011, meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
“It seems that the nuclear power industry has lost much of its popularity because it is seen as in decline and is suffering a negative image from having to decommission crippled reactors,” said Kakitani, 24, who majors in nuclear engineering.
According to education ministry data, 298 students entered departments related to nuclear power study in fiscal 2015, a slight decline from 317 in fiscal 2010.
Kakitani said that although the number may not have declined drastically, many talented students are majoring in the fields of artificial intelligence and aerospace engineering instead of nuclear engineering.
The turnout at the job fair reflects the nuclear power industry’s fall from grace.
In fiscal 2010, 1,903 students attended a nuclear industry job event. In fiscal 2015, only 337 showed up. This year’s tally won’t be known until after a job fair in Osaka on Saturday.
Demand in the industry for graduate talent, however, is on the rise. Firms participating in the job fair, including big names like Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., Toshiba Corp. and Hitachi Ltd., rose from 34 in fiscal 2012 to 59 in fiscal 2016, organizers said.
But recent news that scandal-hit Toshiba is scaling back its atomic business isn’t helping to attract graduates.
Akio Takahashi, president of the nonprofit group Japan Atomic Industrial Forum Inc. (JAIF), which organized the Tokyo job fair, worries that Japan will not have enough nuclear engineers even though it will take several decades to decommission Fukushima No. 1.
“It will be problematic if we run short of manpower,” said Takahashi.
Since the meltdown calamity struck, nuclear plants have faced stricter safety standards. Reactors are now required to be equipped with dozens of additional safety features to defend against various situations, including meltdowns, tsunami and terrorism.
Nuclear plant operators have had to come up with new reactor designs and deal with mountains of paperwork for submission to the Nuclear Regulation Authority, Japan’s nuclear watchdog, which has final authority over whether a reactor can be restarted under the new safety standards.
Japan Atomic Power Company, which runs reactors in the village of Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, and in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, plans to hire about 30 rookie engineers in April 2018.
“After the Fukushima incident, nuclear power faced strong criticism. However, talking to the students today, I felt that more of them are interested in nuclear power,” said a JAPC official at the job fair.
The situation is more serious at the NRA, which assesses and inspects nuclear plants. The NRA, which also set up a booth at the job fair to lure prospective students, hasn’t made it a secret that it lacks enough competent staff to verify whether reactors are up to the safety standards.
The industry also believes nuclear engineering students are not receiving enough training.
Following the Fukushima meltdowns, research reactors, which, like their commercial counterparts have suspended operations, must clear the new safety standards before they can be restarted. For now they are idle.
“Over the past two to three years, students have graduated without engaging in the basic experiments that are of utmost importance in studying nuclear power,” said Keiko Kito, a JAIF staffer who is also a member of the Japan Nuclear Human Resource Development Network (JN-HRD Net). “They may need to study further after research reactors are reactivated at universities.”
The network consists of schools, companies and government organizations, including the education and industry ministries.
Education ministry official Ryosuke Murayama noted that research reactors were necessary to nurture students who can develop and operate nuclear plants, but would not help those seeking to experiment with ways to decommission reactors.
“One of the experiments considered necessary in the basic research associated with the decommissioning of plants involves the secular change in fuel debris. Honestly, it doesn’t require research reactors,” said Murayama.
Murayama is in charge of the ministry’s program to decommission Fukushima No. 1, offering budgets to schools and corporations if their research disciplines are considered effective.
The ministry also earmarked about ¥60 million a year until 2019 for a Fukushima University program aimed at educating students and training working-level technicians for decommissioning the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
Starting in April, roughly 20 students enrolled in the program are set to visit Fukushima No. 1 as part of extracurricular study.
Fukushima University President Katsumi Nakai reportedly plans to offer similar opportunities to students outside the program, such as those studying psychology or risk communications, starting in 2018.
The education ministry, in cooperation with other organizations, including JN-HRD Net, formed a working group in 2015 to look into the human resources needs of the country’s nuclear power industry, according to a report published in 2016.
“Decommissioning will take decades,” said Murayama of the education ministry. “We hope to develop human resources in various fields. Other than those with traditional nuclear engineering backgrounds, we may want people from the fields of robotics, chemistry and even civil engineering.”
But whether the government effort will bear fruit remains to be seen.
Of the students who attended the job fair, those majoring in other disciplines besides nuclear energy, including in electrical and electronic engineering and liberal arts, were in sharp decline.
Less than 50 liberal arts students showed up at the event in fiscal 2015, down from over 250 in fiscal 2010, according to JAIF.
Moreover, a JAIF staffer said the decline in liberal arts students showed the lack of popularity of the nuclear power industry.
METI proposed that TEPCO would start a subsidiary to manage all its nuclear plants. Saying it would facilitate restarting the reactors at the Kashiwazaki Kariwa NPP, as since the beginning of the Tepco-owned Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster the government planned to use profits from the Tepco-owned Kashiwazaki-Kariwa NPP to finance the Fukushima Daiichi disaster costs; and that it would also encourage collaboration among other utilities nuclear power plants, and make merger or sale easier. METI thinks such change would also encourage the public to support nuclear reactors restarting.
As the total decommissionning costs could double, Tepco would also like the rules to be changed so as not take an added large loss on their books.
One day later Hitachi announced that they consider merging their nuclear business with Toshiba and Mistubishi.
These recent new developments show Japan nuclear industry on the defensive, former PM Koizumi warned the Liberal Democratic Party could lose the next election if it focuses on the nuclear power issue.
What this article from Nikkei (the Japanese Business & investment Newspaper) does not say is if the nuclear industry discloses, informs the public about the true facts, the public trust in the nuclear industry will NEVER be restored, and no nuclear plant will ever be allowed to restart.
TOKYO — For Tepco, there is no escaping the accusation that the utility’s deliberate avoidance of the term “meltdown” after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was an attempt to minimize the severity of the situation to the public.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. recognized immediately that a core meltdown had occurred at the ill-fated power plant, and so did Japan’s government. On March 12, 2011 — the day after the crisis began — the term was used at a news conference held by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, Japan’s nuclear power regulator at that time. The spokesman who uttered the word was replaced the following day.
The report issued Thursday by a third-party committee investigating Tepco’s handling of the disaster underscores once again the inability of the prime minister’s office and the bureaucracy at the time to face the reality of the situation. It also deepens the suspicion that officials sought to control the flow of information to the public.
A fear of causing widespread panic is a poor excuse for covering up the truth. If anyone was panicking, it was arguably Tepco’s president at the time, Masataka Shimizu, as well as other officials at the utility and at the prime minister’s office. The report said Shimizu gave instructions at Tepco to avoid using the term meltdown.
Crews at Fukushima Daiichi, led by plant manager Masao Yoshida, made every effort to contain the crisis on the assumption that they were dealing with a meltdown. Even if Tepco headquarters had used this term instead of “core damage” in informing the public, the utility’s response on the ground probably would have been the same. But residents of the evacuation zone, as well as the Self-Defense Forces and other first responders, may have acted differently.
The investigative committee did not determine who in the government might have prompted Shimizu’s directive against using the word. There has been reluctance to examine the involvement of elected officials and bureaucrats in the disaster response. More probing is needed.
It took more than five years for Shimizu’s instructions to come to light. The latest investigation itself never would have occurred if not for the persistence of the Niigata Prefecture government, which has its own Tepco — whose formal name is now Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings — nuclear power plant to worry about.
What happens at the nation’s nuclear reactors ought to be made public without disguise — and not just when serious safety breaches like meltdowns are involved. Efforts on disclosure must begin with everyday information in order to restore the public’s trust in nuclear power.
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