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News Watch 125

(July/August 2008)

Under-age workers employed in radiation-related work

Japan-Kazakhstan Joint Statement

Cameco Invests in GLE

Japan-US Joint Statement on Nuclear Cooperation

Missile Warning - False Alarm

Under-age workers employed in radiation-related work
A Toshiba sub-sub contractor deliberately misreported the age of nine under-age (under 18) temporary workers and submitted forged identification papers to obtain radiation control hand books for them. It was discovered in May that seven of the workers worked in radiation control areas at Tokyo Electric's Fukushima I and Tohoku Electric's Onagawa and Higashidoori nuclear power plants from October 2007 to May 2008. Toshiba reported the incident to the Labor Standard Inspection Office in May. Perhaps because of the media reports on June 4, the Nuclear Industrial and Safety Agency (NISA) reprimanded Toshiba on June 5 and demanded that it take prevention measures. NISA also demanded all nuclear power and fuel cycle companies to check whether there had been any cases at their facilities of forged identification documents and misreported age.

Each company reported to NISA on June 18, but on June 24 NISA announced that some companies had simply relayed the results of surveys carried out by their subcontractors without checking them. NISA said that this was "very regrettable" and demanded that the companies themselves check original identification with photos, such as drivers' licenses or passports.

There had been a previous case in 1988, where three high school students used other people's resident certificates to obtain radiation control hand books to enable them to work at Kansai Electric Power Company's Takahama nuclear power plant.

Japan-Kazakhstan Joint Statement
On June 20, Prime Minster Yasuo Fukuda and Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev issued a joint statement on nuclear cooperation. Tokyo Electric - Marubeni and Kansai Electric - Sumitomo are participating in projects to develop uranium mines in Kazakhstan. Other nuclear business ventures (see below) are also planned. The leaders of the two countries agreed to make efforts for the early conclusion of an agreement for cooperation in the nuclear energy sector.

On the same day, Toshiba signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Kazakhstan's national atomic company, Kazatomprom, on strengthening cooperation in the field of nuclear energy. The MoU was aimed at strengthening future business development. It covered cooperation in the fuel supply chain (development of uranium mines, uranium enrichment and fuel fabrication), nuclear component manufacture, and the application of Kazakhstan's beryllium and tantalum resources in nuclear power plants.

On June 3, a uranium mine being developed by Kansai Electric, Sumitomo and Kazatomprom was opened. Then on June 9 in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, Japan Atomic Energy Agency and Kazakhstan Atomic Energy Committee signed a memorandum of understanding to make efforts for the conclusion of an agreement on high-temperature gas-cooled reactor safety research. Kazakhstan has announced plans to introduce large-scale light water reactors (1000 MW class), medium-size light water reactors (300 MW class), and small reactors (50 MW class) for cogeneration of heat and electricity for regional towns. High-temperature gas-cooled reactors are said to be the most likely small reactor candidates.

Cameco Invests in GLE
On June 20, GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy announced that Canada's largest uranium producer, Cameco, would invest in its subsidiary company GE-Hitachi Global Laser Enrichment (GLE). GLE is developing laser uranium enrichment technology with a view to commercialization. GE will own 51% of GLE, Hitachi will own 25% and Cameco will own 24%.

Japan-US Joint Statement on Nuclear Cooperation
On June 7, Japanese Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry, Akira Amari, and US Energy Secretary, Samuel Bodman, issued a joint statement on nuclear cooperation. Meeting prior to the G8 Energy Ministerial Meeting held in Aomori City on June 7~8, they confirmed progress in several areas of cooperation, including the following:

"The expression of the intention to consult on potential financing support measures that would facilitate nuclear power plant construction in the United States of America, incorporating the financial institutions identified by METI (Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) as well as Nippon Export and Investment Insurance (NEXI)), and identified by the United States Department of Energy (DOE Loan Guarantee Program Office)."

In the past JBIC and NEXI have not provided support for nuclear power related projects in developed countries. The new deal will break this principle. We need to be on our guard against the excuse they give, namely that nuclear power is alleged to be a solution for the problem of global warming.

Missile Warning - False Alarm
Mihama town in Fukui Prefecture is home to Kansai Electric's Mihama Nuclear Power Plant (3 PWRs, total 1,666 MW). On the afternoon of June 30, the following message was broadcast over 58 loud speakers in the town:

"Missile alert. There is a danger that a missile will land in this area."

Cartoon by Shoji Takagi

Council workers who noticed the mistake stopped the broadcast manually. Using the same speakers, along with 3,800 broadcasting machines located in homes and offices in the town, they announced that the warning was a false alarm, but in the meantime the council's phones rang hot as frantic residents called in to find out what was going on.

The warning was given by the Fire and Disaster Management Agency's satellite-based alert system, J-Alert. In the case of large-scale disasters, or attacks from other countries, information necessary for the protection of citizens is relayed instantly to regional authorities using the Superbird B2 satellite communication system. Also, the local disaster prevention authorities' wireless system, which is connected to the national satellite communication network, is activated automatically and emergency information is relayed to citizens.

On the day of the incident, there was a problem with some of the system's equipment. The Fire and Disaster Management Agency gave directions by email and phone on how to check the equipment. When the system was reactivated, a standardized message, which was only intended for internal use in order to check the system, was accidentally broadcast over the loud speakers.

The false alarm, which came at a time when the whole country was on high-alert status for the G8 Summit in Toyako, Hokkaido, had the salutary effect of reminding the residents of Mihama that the nuclear power plant in their town could be a target of a missile attack.

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