CASE STUDY − JAPAN

On 29 August 2002 the Japanese Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) revealed a massive data falsification scandal carried out by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). At that point 29 cases of “malpractice” had been identified, including the falsification of the operator’s inspection records at its nuclear power plants over many years. All of TEPCO’s 17 reactors had to be shut down for inspection and repair. It was also reported later that these practices had gone on for as long as 25 years and the total number of events is put at nearly 200. In September 2002 additional cases of malpractice were revealed involving two other nuclear operators, Chubu Electric Power Company and Tohoku Electric Power Company. (Schneider et al., 2007)

NISA (2002) said: “As nuclear safety regulatory authorities, NISA regards the recent cases as a very serious problem, not only with safety arrangements at licensees who have performed inappropriate acts but also with Japan’s nuclear safety regulatory administration itself. The cover-up cases have made us painfully aware that we must frankly reflect on what we have done, take the plunge and mend our ways.”

There have been numerous other documented incidents of data falsification involving reactors in Japan in the years since 2002. (Schneider et al., 2007; WISE/NIRS, 2007; Japan Times, 2010; World Nuclear News, 2010; World Nuclear News 2009; Tsukimori, 2007; Lies, 2007)

Accidents at Japanese nuclear facilities over the past decade include (WISE/NIRS, 2002; WISE/NIRS, 2007; Schneider et al., 2007):

  • Sodium leak at the Monju fast breeder in December 1995.
  • Tokai reprocessing waste explosion in March 1997.
  • In 1999, 50 tonnes of primary coolant leaked from a reactor at Tsuruga, leading to a sharp increase of radiation levels inside the reactor building.
  • Following a criticality accident at a uranium conversion plant at Tokaimura in 1999, two people died and hundreds were irradiated.
  • In 2001, a water pipe at Hamaoka-1 exploded, releasing radioactive steam into the containment building
  • In 2002, 16 workers were irradiated after a water pipe leak at Hamaoka-2.
  • On 9 August 2004, five workers were killed and six injured after a pipe rupture and steam leak at the Mihama-3 nuclear power plant. It was later revealed that the thickness of the wall of the failed pipe had not been checked since the plant went into operation in 1976.
  • Fukushima, 2011 − an earthquake and tsunami result in limited access to electricity and compromised water cooling systems, leading to a cascade of events including exposure of fuel and spent fuel as water levels fell, fires, explosions, and emergency responses compromised by radiation levels, fresh water shortages, etc.

In addition, earthquakes have effected several nuclear plants in Japan including a major 2007 earthquake which led to the shutdown of all operating reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Niigata. Radiation releases included small leaks of radioactive liquids and the release of small quantities of radionuclides resulting from 400 drums of low-level nuclear waste which were knocked over by aftershocks, 40 losing their lids.

Following criticism’s over TEPCO’s response to the earthquake, Nuclear Engineering International reported: “Japan’s nuclear industry has been suffering in the glare of negative publicity brought about by revelations that operators had covered up accidents and problems for decades. When it became public knowledge, it was hoped that the public relations disaster that companies were engineering for themselves might lead the wider industry to realise the potential benefits of being more open and honest when problems do crop up. That hope seems to have withered again in Niigata.” (Ryall, 2007)

The Japanese Citizens Nuclear Information Centre commented (White and Yamaguchi, 2009):

“Prior to establishment of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant there were oil fields in the region. Studies related to these oil fields showed that the ground was unstable, so informed locals knew very well that it was an unsuitable place to construct a nuclear power plant. Why then was such a site chosen for a nuclear power plant? The answer is simple: Kakuei Tanaka of Lockheed bribery scandal fame. Kakuei Tanaka, either as Prime Minister, or as the man pulling the strings behind the scenes, was Japan’s political strong man. He was from Nishiyama Town, just north of Kashiwazaki City. He had a sizable shareholding in real estate company Muromachi Sangyo and in practice controlled the company. The site of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant (KK) was bought up by Muromachi Sangyo and later sold to Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). Money changed hands several times in the process and it is said that Tanaka’s profit from the land sale was 400 million yen ($11 million at the time). Under these circumstances, it is not hard to imagine that concerns about seismic safety were never going to stand in the way of construction of the plant. …

“Proponents of nuclear power in other earthquake-prone countries point to Japan as a role model. However, the history of the seismic assessment and design of Japan’s nuclear power plants suggests that it is more by luck than good management that Japan has managed to escape a nuclear earthquake catastrophe.”

All seven reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant − the largest nuclear plant in the world − were involved in the 2002 data falsification scandal.

The comments above were written two months before the March 2011 Fukushima disaster. See also the March 2012 Friends of the Earth briefing paper, ‘Japan’s Nuclear Scandals and the Fukushima Disaster’, http://foe.org.au/anti-nuclear/issues/nfc/power/japan. Here is a brief summary of the paper:

1. Safety breaches and cover-ups: The Japanese nuclear industry has been plagued by safety breaches, scandals, cover-ups, inadequate regulation and a myriad of other failings over a long period of time.

2. Corruption and collusion in Japan’s ‘nuclear village’: Japan’s nuclear industry is run by a clique of public- and private-sector interests that have promoted personal and corporate gain at the expense of public safety.

3. Nuclear accidents in Japan: Managerial and regulatory failures have contributed to numerous nuclear accidents in Japan.

4. Earthquake and tsunami risks: TEPCO (operator of the Fukushima plant) did not adequately protect against earthquake and tsunami risks, nor was it forced to by the government regulator.

5. Responsibility for the Fukushima disaster: Primary responsibility for the disaster lies with TEPCO. Others are culpable including Japanese government agencies and regulators, and overseas suppliers who have turned a blind eye to serious problems in Japan’s nuclear industry over a long period of time.

6. Australia’s role in the Fukushima disaster: Australia’s uranium mining industry has done nothing to try to rectify the patterns of unsafe mismanagement in Japan’s nuclear industry, or the inadequate regulation. Successive Australian governments have been equally passive.

Appendix: Spinning Fukushima: Two ABC opinion articles (March 2011 and February 2012)  on the ‘spinning’ of the Fukushima disaster by nuclear power advocates.

References

Japan Times, 1 May 2010, ‘Utility admits more failures at nuke plant’, <http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20100501a4.html>

Lies, Elaine, 5 April 2007, ‘Japan Nuclear at Full Power Despite Safety Doubts’, <www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/41263/story.htm>

NISA − Japanese Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency, 1 October 2002, ‘Interim Report on the Falsified Self-imposed Inspection Records at Nuclear Power Stations’.

Ryall, Julian, 14 September 2007, ‘Japan’s PR aftershock’, <www.neimagazine.com/story.asp?sectioncode=188&storyCode=2047061>

Schneider, M., G. Kastchiev,W. Kromp, S. Kurth, D. Lochbaum, E. Lyman, and M. Sailer, 2007, ‘Residual Risk: An Account of Events in Nuclear Power Plants Since the Chernobyl Accident in 1986′, <http://www.greens-efa.org/cms/topics/dokbin/181/181995.pdf>

Tsukimori, Osamu, 5 September 2007, ‘Small Radiation Leak at Japan Nuclear Power Plant’, <www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/44137/story.htm>

White, Philip, and Yukio Yamaguchi, 2009, ‘Seismic Design of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant: a Historical Perspective’, <http://cnic.jp/english/topics/safety/earthquake/kkdesignhistory6ap09.html>

WISE/NIRS, 4 October 2002, “Japan: nuclear scandal widens and deepens”, WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor, <www.antenna.nl/wise/574/index.html>.

WISE/NIRS, 20 April 2007, ‘Japan’s Nuclear Industry Plagued by Scandals’, <www10.antenna.nl/wise/654/5792.php>

World Nuclear News, 14 April 2009, ‘Data falsification prompts component checks’, <www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS-Data_falsification_prompts_component_checks-1404098.html>

World Nuclear News, 31 March 2010, ‘Shimane offline following faulty inspections’, <www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS-Shimane_offline_following_faulty_inspections-3103105.html>