Lesson from Fukushima: Collusion in the nuclear domain

Lesson from Fukushima: Collusion in the nuclear domain

Postby Oscar » Mon Mar 13, 2023 2:33 pm

Lesson from Fukushima: Collusion in the nuclear domain

[ https://www.nationalobserver.com/2023/0 ... ear-domain ]

By Gordon Edwards & Susan O’Donnell | Opinion | March 13th 2023

This month marks the 12th anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, when three nuclear reactors in Japan suffered catastrophic meltdowns.

A tsunami knocked out the reactors' cooling systems. The plant was shut down, but radioactivity sent temperatures soaring past the melting point of steel.

Radioactive gases mingled with superheated steam and explosive hydrogen gas, which detonated, spreading radioactive contamination over a vast area; 120,000 people were evacuated and 30,000 are still unable to go home.

Radioactively contaminated water from the stricken reactors has accumulated in 1,000 gigantic steel tanks, and despite objections from China, Korea and local fishers, Japan plans to dump it into the Pacific Ocean soon.

What caused this catastrophe? Most people blame the tsunami. The commission of investigation in Japan concluded otherwise. In its report to the National Diet, the commission found the root cause was a lack of good governance.

The accident “was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and TEPCO [the nuclear company], and the lack of governance by said parties. They effectively betrayed the nation’s right to be safe from nuclear accidents. Therefore, we conclude that the accident was clearly ‘man-made.’ We believe that the root causes were the organizational and regulatory systems that supported faulty rationales for decisions and actions…”

The commission chairman wrote: “What must be admitted — very painfully — is that this was a disaster 'made in Japan.' Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program’; our groupism; and our insularity... Nuclear power became an unstoppable force, immune to scrutiny by civil society. Its regulation was entrusted to the same government bureaucracy responsible for its promotion.”

Canada has not heeded these warnings. After Justin Trudeau was elected in 2015, his government did away with environmental assessments for any new reactors below a certain size, thus eliminating scrutiny by civil society. This leaves all decision-making in the hands of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) — an agency previously identified by an expert review panel as a captured regulator.

The CNSC, mandated to protect the public and the environment, lobbied government to abolish full impact assessments for most “small modular nuclear reactors” (SMNRs).

Back in 2011, in the midst of the media frenzy about the triple meltdown, Canadians were testifying at federal environmental assessment hearings for up to four large nuclear reactors to be built by Ontario Power Generation (OPG) at Darlington, about 50 kilometres east of Toronto’s edge. The Fukushima disaster was cited repeatedly as a warning.

This month marks the 12th anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, when three nuclear reactors in Japan suffered catastrophic meltdowns.

The panel approved OPG’s plan, but the Ontario government was thunderstruck by the price tag, reputed to be over $14 billion per unit, and cancelled the project.

Now OPG wants to build a smaller reactor at the Darlington site. Since a full impact assessment has been ruled out, CNSC is using the report from 12 years ago as the basis for public interventions. The reactor now proposed (the BWRX-300) has no similarity to any of the reactors that were under consideration then or to any operating today in Canada. Ironically, it is a “miniaturized” version of those that melted down at Fukushima.

CNSC is legally linked to the minister of Natural Resources, who is also tasked with promoting the nuclear industry at home and abroad. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warns that regulators must be independent of any agency promoting the industry.

One day after Canada's Infrastructure Bank gave OPG a $970-million “low-interest loan” to develop the BWRX-300 at Darlington, the minister boasted to a Washington audience that it would soon become Canada’s first commercial SMNR.

CNSC president Rumina Velshi lauded the speed at which the licensing is proceeding, saying that Canada would be the first western country to approve an SMNR built for the grid.

CNSC is at least two years from approving the reactor. Nevertheless, OPG held a ground-breaking ceremony at Darlington in December. The licence to construct seems a foregone conclusion. When asked, CNSC freely admitted that from the day of its inception, it has never refused to grant a licence for any major nuclear facility.

Government, regulator and industry are already on board. Collusion? Or just co-operation?

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Gordon Edwards is president and co-founder of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, a not-for-profit corporation established in 1975. He is a retired professor of mathematics and science at Vanier College in Montreal.

Susan O’Donnell is an adjunct professor at St. Thomas University and a member of the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick.
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