“Rethinking Nuclear Energy and Democracy after 9/11” An International Conference held in Basel, Switzerland Nuke Info Tokyo No. 90

Introduction and Nuclear Energy History in Switzerland

On April 26 and 27, commemorating the 17 years that have passed since the Chernobyl accident, an international conference called ‘Rethinking Nuclear Energy and Democracy after 9/11’ was held in Basel, Switzerland. Basel is a city close to the borders of Germany and France, and is known as an actively anti-nuke city, along with Geneva. Twenty-five years ago, there was a plan to build a nuclear power plant in the neighborhood of Basel, but it was cancelled through coordinated efforts by citizens.

Switzerland as a whole still depends on nuclear energy for 40 % of its electricity, approximately 5 % more than Japan. At the same time, it is known for popular vote initiatives on nuclear energy. In 1990, a national referendum approved an initiative to stop nuclear power plant construction for the next ten years. The success came after failed proposals in 1979 and 1984. In 2003, there will be another public vote on the issue of a full nuclear power phase-out. According to Mr. Conrad Brunner, a Swiss energy consultant, 75% of the people are against nuclear power. Yet, the majority votes both at canton and state levels are needed to pass these initiatives and Swiss citizens cannot afford to be off their guard until the final result comes out. Hopefully, this symposium will give a further momentum to the people’s desire for nuclear phase-out.

The conference was hosted by Physicians for Social Responsibility and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), Switzerland. In his welcoming speech, Dr. Andreas Nidecker mentioned that since 1999, the IPPNW has addressed the issue of civil use of nuclear power as a technology linked to the weapons issue through the common use of plutonium. He also stressed the importance of communication and encouraged animated discussion at the conference attended by speakers from varied backgrounds; medical doctors, politicians, the Deputy Secretary General of the IAEA, ministerial officials, government bodies, and NGOs, in short, both from critics and promoters.

Nuclear Power Plants Are Not Terrorist-proof

As the title of the symposium indicates, the issue of possible terrorist attacks was one of the main focuses. Mr. David Waller, the Deputy Secretary-General of IAEA, discussed the Agency’s efforts to safeguard radioactive material to prevent any use by terrorists. On the other hand, Mr. Edwin Lyman from the Nuclear Control Institute in Washington pointed out the lack of sufficient measures to prevent attacks on nuclear facilities. “In the United States, the NRC has been requesting countermeasures against terrorist attacks on nuclear facilities since the 1970s. However, these measures were not quite effective. It was also revealed that the Operational Safeguards Response Evaluation (OSRE), a spot test to prevent intrusion by terrorists, is not adequate. After 9/11, the NRC called for security reinforcement of the nuclear facilities. Military forces were mobilized in some states, but 75% of the operators of nuclear facilities have not come up with effective measures yet.” He also attributed this insufficiency of measures to fierce utility fee competition. He concluded that in practice, there are no effective measures even though the NRC is currently under pressure to do a review in the light of possible terrorist attack. A similar critical picture was drawn by Mr. John Large who owns the consulting company that salvaged the Russian Submarine Kursk. He discussed the vulnerability of Sellafield, which has numerous flight paths close to the plants. He further mentioned that it would only take 4 or 5 minutes to hijack a passenger plane and crash it into the site, saying that the existing nuclear facilities would not withstand the impact of a commercial aircraft. Furthermore, fire after an air crash might destroy electric circuit, which would make the plant uncontrollable.

Suggestions on Liability for Nuclear Damage-A System that Can Never Be Perfect

Mr. Tom Vanden Borre, a legal counselor of the Belgian Prime Minister’s Office, stated that under the existing nuclear liability conventions (Paris and Vienna Conventions), terrorism is not a ground for exoneration, and thus, the operator of a nuclear installation would be liable for damage due to acts of terrorism. The legal situation is not much different in countries that are not members of one of the Conventions (Japan is not a signatory state to the Paris or Vienna Conventions). He mentioned some examples of nuclear insurance policies, such as Captive (property insurance scheme created by nuclear operators in the US and Europe), and some special reinsurance policies in which members of the nuclear industry reinsure each other instead of reinsuring on the common market. As alternative insurance measures after 9/11, he further suggested the creation of other schemes such as a nuclear Captive covering only terrorism risk, damage funds covering environmental liabilities, and the ART-Mechanism (Alternative Risk Transfer) which use insurance derivatives like swaps and options. In his concluding remarks, he stressed that there will never be a miracle solution on nuclear insurance policy and measures preventing terrorist attacks are at least equally important.

Presentations from Japanese Delegates: Toward Nuclear Phase-Out

Mr. Hideyuki Ban, the Co-director of CNIC, made a presentation on the 1999 JCO criticality accident at a uranium conversion plant in Tokaimura with detailed explanation on the causes of the accident and its consequences. Two workers lost their lives due to severe radiation exposure, and more than 664 people were exposed to radiation. Mr. Ban said, “After the accident, there has been a drastic shift in people’s perception of nuclear energy. The word, ‘Nuclear’ was even omitted from Tokaimura’s entrance sign board.”

Mr. Kazuyuki Takemoto, a Kariwa village farmer, talked about the local referendum regarding the Pluthermal plan (use of MOX in LWR) at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa station, the world biggest nuclear power station site. The referendum was carried out in May 2001, and successfully rejected the Pluthermal plan- despite the fact that one fourth of the Kariwa households are dependent on the nuclear industry. He said that the main reasons for this result were that: 1) Residents have a feeling that they have been very obedient to the state policy, accepting nuclear power plants one after another, and now they are asking “Why do we have to contribute more?” 2) After the JCO accident and the disclosure of falsified inspection data for MOX fuel, residents have doubts about the Japanese nuclear safety myth.

Japan has seen three consecutive victories of anti-nuke referenda in recent years. Mr. Takemoto believes that there will be a day in the future when Japan will successfully achieve a shift from the nuclear energy policy by referenda. His detailed presentation on local initiatives and future perspectives of Japanese nuclear policy produced a good reaction from the audience, and right after the conference, IPPNW Switzerland proposed a joint event to be held in Japan, aiming at local level communication between people living near nuclear facilities in Japan and Switzerland.

Dr. Testunari Iida, the Principal of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policy (ISEP), severely criticized the typical Japanese situation of bureaucratic domination accompanied by politicians’ complicity and experts’ irrational theories, explaining why the nuclear risk has been disregarded. At the same time, he touched upon the emerging trend of local initiatives including Kariwa’s referendum and the Fukushima governor’s initiative to do an independent energy review.

The former Japanese ambassador to Switzerland, Mr. Mitsuhei Murata, the chairperson of the Nuclear Policy Decision-Making session, stated his anti-nuclear energy position thus: “Japan, the victim of the military use of nuclear energy, is treading the path toward becoming the victim of the civil use of nuclear energy.” He is particularly concerned at present about the Hamaoka nuclear power plants, which are located in the region where a magnitude 8 earthquake could occur at any time soon. He further mentioned that a civil society should take a key role in changing the course of nuclear policy, and talked about his plan to issue a joint statement with the support of citizens’ groups so that local municipalities should be persuaded, which would eventually shift the central government’s policy (see note below).

The Austrian Constitution for a Nuclear-Free Society

Mr. Klaus Renoldner, the president of the Austrian affiliate of IPPNW and chairperson of the NGO Committee on Peace at the UN, presented his country’s unique path toward a non-nuclear society. In Austria, as early as in 1978, the start-up of the Zwentendorf nuclear power plant was suspended by a national referendum. In 1989, when Austria’s EU membership was approved by a national referendum, conservative parties started to insist that the country become a member of NATO, and people were concerned about the possibility of nuclear weapons deployment on Austrian territory. Therefore, IPPNW-Austria, along with citizens, collected many signatures on a petition for a new constitutional law against nuclear society. As a result, on July 13 1999, the Austrian Parliament agreed upon the “Constitutional Law in favor of a Nuclear-free Austria”. The new law includes the following three pillars; 1) Nuclear weapons may not be produced, stored, transported or tested in Austria; 2) Nuclear power plants may not be constructed or used in Austria; 3) Transport of fissile material on Austrian territory is prohibited, except transport for exclusively peaceful uses, but not for the purpose of the production of energy by nuclear fission.

In the Austrian constitution, we see the ideal future for a nuclear-free society. Through the two-day symposium, we have shared the same recognition that local municipalities and citizens’ participation are vital for achieving such a goal. After September 11, we cannot ignore the very real risk originating from both military and civil use of nuclear energy, and our perspective on the future has become somewhat a grim one. However, we should maintain our ceaseless efforts to achieve a nuclear-free society through citizens’ initiatives and solidarity, at local, national, and international levels.

(Mari Takenouchi)

Note: On May 20, Mr. Mitsuhei Murata, the former Japanese ambassador to Switzerland, held a press conference for issuing the Statement calling for the shutdown of Hamaoka nuclear power plants. He has gained support from the following people from various areas: Atsushi Shimokoube (Former Vice Minister of the National Land Agency), Yukika Souma (Vice Chairperson of Yukio Ozaki Foundation), Toshiro Nishigori ( Former Vice Chairman of the Japan Association of Solar Thermal Utilization), Akira Hasegawa (Former Chairman of the Plasma Department, American Physics Society), Seiichi Mizuno (Former Member of the House of Councilors). Mr. Murata called for the breaking of the media’s taboo on presenting the true stories regarding Hamaoka. Mr. Mizuno insisted that this statement was not solely for the protection of citizens, but also for the survival of the nuclear industries. Now the lawsuit is underway seeking an injunction on Hamaoka, with more than 1000 plaintiffs. Ignoring the growing concern of these people, on May 25, Chubu Electric resumed the operation of Hamaoka 2, and another water-leak accident occurred only 13 hours after the resumption. Now there are seven local councils demanding the shutdown of the Hamaoka nuclear power plants.

(Mari Takenouchi)

You may also like...