Is TEPCO Serious about Restarting Kashiwazaki-Kariwa-3 within the Year? Nuke Info Tokyo No. 142

At a press conference on April 13, President Masataka Shimizu of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) stated that the company aimed to restart Kashiwazaki-Kariwa-3 (KK-3) within the year. On the following day, April 14, “The Association of Prefectural Citizens to Protect Lives and Communities from Nuclear Power Plants” protested against Mr. Shimizu’s statement and demanded a retraction, citing five reasons.

As reported in the last issue, TEPCO floated the concept of “design load for earthquakes” in debate on KK-3 in the “Sub-Committee on Equipment Integrity and Seismic Safety” on March 8. When committee member Masahiro Koiwa asked for details, the TEPCO official in charge was evasive. He reportedly admitted that the concept was based on confidential materials from the plant manufacturer and that there were some aspects that TEPCO itself was not familiar with. Thus there is a risk of “approval by engineering judgment” without thorough debate.

Nearly six weeks have passed since the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station (Fukushima I), also operated by TEPCO, went out of control on March 11. TEPCO is still unable to “cool down” the reactor and “seal in the radiation.”

On April 17, TEPCO announced a roadmap projecting that it would take six to nine months to stabilize reactors Fukushima I-1 to 3. However, it has been unable to finalize the work plan as it has only a very poor grasp of the situation and the radiation levels in the reactors are too high to proceed with the work. The roadmap is nothing more than TEPCO’s wishful thinking. How long will this situation continue? As long as it does, we will be forced to live with the fear of radiation.

The radiation released from “Fukushima” (as the plant is often referred to in the Western media) has already spread worldwide. Nine days after discharge, it traversed North America and spread to the entire northern hemisphere. By April 13, it had spread to the Asia-Pacific region in the southern hemisphere, and radiation was detected in Australia, Fiji, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, and other places.

TEPCO has committed a truly grave crime. It is now obvious that operating a nuclear power plant is beyond the capability of a single power company. The nuclear chain reaction has proven to be “fire from heaven” that cannot be extinguished even by a mass mobilization of plant engineers, the military and all other forces.

No more excuses that it was “unexpected” – a call for thorough debate and deliberation

Ever since March 11, we have heard countless excuses that the devastating earthquake and subsequent massive tsunami were “unexpected.” But what does it mean to say they were “unexpected”? The arguments of the experts who have promoted nuclear power over the years are no more than lame excuses.

What impact did the Chuetsu-oki Earthquake have on nuclear power plants? How large is the next earthquake expected to be? Will Kashiwazaki-Kariwa NPP be able to withstand it when it comes? Will it be possible to “stop the power plant, cool it down and contain the radiation”? These are some of the issues concerning local citizens’ “safety and security” that are being debated by the technical committee of Niigata Prefecture and its two sub-committees. Niigata Prefecture has undoubtedly tried to address these issues quite proactively. “The Niigata method” of forming two sub-committees, each with a number of civic-minded academics, was widely acclaimed. There were expectations that this would bring some fresh air to the stuffy “nuclear power club” comprised of pro-nuclear government officials, industry insiders and academics beholden to them. Unfortunately, the expectations have had to be toned down in the subsequent three years. The technical committee has been found to be incapable of functioning. Debate in the two sub-committees, where the substantive discussion needs to occur, has often been cut short by “engineering judgment.”

Observers at the committees are worried that debate on many topics has been cut short mid-way, leaving unresolved ambiguities. Doubts about the safety margins, plastic strain, the length of the fault lines along the eastern margin of the Sado Basin, the strength of the casing for the recirculation pump of KK-7, and other issues have remained unresolved from the start. The following are but a few examples from recent discussions:

The reactor buildings and turbine buildings for KK-1 to 7 have continued to rise and sink erratically.

  • Not only are the fuel rods in KK-7 damaged in many places, but the control rods also have many cracks.
  • The exhaust stacks are leaning to the side due to tilting of the foundations. This is most prominent at KK-1, 2 and 3.
  • The earthquake-resistant wall of KK-5 has many cracks, and the hangers supporting the pipework are dislocated at a number of locations.
  • Will the stabilizer for the nuclear reactor containment vessel of KK-5 really improve safety during earthquakes?
  • Is safety from tsunamis really adequate at plus 2 meters and minus 3.5 meters?

“We don’t know why. It is a matter of science. The criteria are not wrong. It will not impact safety. The criteria have been adopted by the academic societies, etc., on the basis of many years of experience. There is no need to reopen the debate on the criteria.” These views of the committee members in favor of nuclear power have held sway.

Restart the entire debate from scratch

Proponents of nuclear power plants begin with the presumption that the plants need to be built. “Assumptions” are made on the premise that the plants are to be built. Criteria are set at levels convenient for this purpose. They were based on economic efficiency and engineering judgment, and the option of refraining from setting criteria if scientific investigation had not resolved the issue was not considered.

In this light, how are we to understand the initial apology in the “Urgent Recommendations regarding the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Station” that was signed jointly by 16 leading proponents of nuclear power on March 31?

It states, “Firstly, as leading proponents of the peaceful use of nuclear power, we profoundly regret this accident and deeply apologize to the citizens of our country.” It goes on to make some inferences about the state of the accident at the time, and concludes by saying, “We strongly demand that the government urgently build a robust framework for a nation-wide effort to respond to the nuclear power plant accident in Fukushima.” The signatories include two former heads of the Nuclear Safety Commission, three former presidents of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, and three former commissioners of the Nuclear Safety Commission. Former head of the Nuclear Safety Commission, Shojiro Matsuura, who attended the announcement of the recommendations, expressed his regrets by saying “no apology will suffice for this problem; as humans who have failed, we wanted to consider ways of resolving this problem for society.” (Sankei Shimbun, April 1) However, the recommendations are only statements of principles and are lacking in specifics. They are similar to TEPCO’s roadmap.

I fear that it may already be too late, but if it is still possible to avoid an emergency, the sub-committees in Niigata should learn some lessons from “Fukushima” and engage in robust and thorough debate. If there is a proper debate, free from deception, they must certainly reach the conclusion that KK NPP must be closed down. I have recently given some in-depth interviews to Western journalists. Obviously, they wanted to know about “Fukushima,” but their other big concern was the future of KK.

April 20

Yukio Yamaguchi (CNIC Co-Director)

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