Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Nuclear power is not necessary, not safe, not sustainable

The catastrophe is still unfolding at Fukushima, but the British government is continuing with its plans for building new nuclear power stations – nuclear new-build. While other countries at least put a moratorium on new nuclear, or even make plans to phase out nuclear energy completely, in Britain it’s as if Fukushima didn’t happen. Like a mantra, government and the nuclear industry keep repeating that Fukushima could not happen in Britain because there are no earthquakes of that magnitude. We heard similar excuses after Chernobyl (1986) and Three Mile Island (1979). But nuclear accidents can and do happen – even in Britain; the disaster at Windscale in 1957 released massive levels of radiation into the atmosphere. If we continue to use and expand nuclear power, there will certainly be more catastrophic accidents, not to mention all the other enormous problems associated with nuclear power production, even when it is working ‘normally’.

Nuclear power is not necessary, not safe, not sustainable

Nuclear power is not necessary. Several studies, from the government's Sustainable Development Commission to Greenpeace and the Centre for Alternative Technology show that Britain can meet its energy needs without nuclear, and reduce carbon emissions at the same time.

Nuclear power is not sustainable. Nuclear power depends on uranium mining, which destroys huge landscapes and local communities living there. Uranium itself is a finite resource, and requires huge amounts of energy to be mined.

Nuclear power is not the answer to climate change. Nuclear power is not as low carbon as the government and the industry want us to believe. In addition, nuclear power is expensive, and takes a long time to build. In short: nuclear power provides too few carbon reductions, too late, and will divert investment from renewable, genuinely low-carbon forms of energy production.

Nuclear power is not safe. Accidents such as at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima show the potentially catastrophic consequences of nuclear power. Numerous smaller accidents and incidents also happen at power stations in Britain: at Windscale, Bradwell, Sizewell, and others.

Nuclear power is a threat to our civil liberties. Because nuclear power stations are potential military or terrorist targets, they pose a threat to our civil liberties. The nuclear police have special powers, and everyone approaching a nuclear power station can be seen as a potential threat.

For more details, see our website at http://stopnewnuclear.org.uk/
We can stop new nuclear

The government and the nuclear industry want us to believe that nuclear new-build in Britain is a done deal. They want to discourage us from protesting – the message they want us to swallow is clear: opposition is futile, and we will be going ahead anyway!

However, that couldn't be further from the truth. Yes, the government has introduced a framework which effectively will subsidise new nuclear at our expense – as electricity consumers and taxpayers. Yes, the government has effectively deprived local communities from having a say in the planning process for new nuclear and other major infrastructure projects thus dumping a crucial cornerstone of local democracy.

But nuclear new-build in Britain is already behind schedule and has faced legal and other setbacks. Public concern is mounting following the Fukushima disaster. If we can stop the building at Hinkley, we can stop the whole process. Now is the time to mobilise and take action.

New-nuclear in Britain is far from being a done deal, and we can still stop it!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Campaigners against nuclear power says an accident like that seen at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan could effect Bristol.


Pickles overrules council on nuclear waste

The communities secretary, Eric Pickles, has approved plans to bury 250,000 tonnes of radioactive waste at the East Northants landfill site near Peterborough. The plan was refused by Northamptonshire county council but Pickles upheld the appeal by hazardous waste disposal company Augean. The move was met with outrage among people living in Northamptonshire. In a local poll, 98% of residents voted against dumping the waste. Campaigners Kings Cliffe Waste Watchers said: "In overturning the decision of the county council, and the wishes of all local government organs, he [Ed Pickles] has hardly demonstrated the level of commitment expected from one who is trying to steer localism". The department for communities and local government defended the move. "This is an existing landfill site which handles hazardous waste," it said. "Having considered all the evidence and representations, the minister has accepted the expert planning advice that granting a temporary planning permission for additional waste would not be harmful to the local community."

Guardian Professional, Thursday 26 May 2011 15.07 BST

Anti nuclear protest in French bank

A bank employee stands next to anti-G8 protesters as they occupy a bank during a demonstration in the city of Le Havre, western France, Thursday, May 26 claiming that banks finance nuclear weapons and energy. G8 leaders, in a two-day meeting in Deauville, will discuss the Internet, aid for North African states and ways in which to end the conflict in Libya. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

PARIS — Police on Thursday detained some 100 people protesting against the Group of Eight summit in a Normandy ressort.

Officers also prevented protests in Paris and other French cities aimed to coincide with the two-day summit that brings together leaders of the world’s richest nations at the northern resort town of Deauville.

Some of the demonstrators were searched with their hands against a wall before being led into police vans.

A smaller group of around a dozen protesters managed to get inside the Paris offices of credit rating agency Standard & Poors, but left peacefully after handing out pamphlets.

A group representing the charity Doctors Without Borders hung a giant banner advocating free medical care outside the Paris stock exchange building.

Closer to the summit, a group of activists raised a large banner with anti-G8 slogans on the beach in Le Havre, just across the mouth of the Seine river from Deauville.

In nearby Caen another small demonstration of around several hundred protesters was contained by police.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Sizewell Anti-Nuclear Camp


anti nuclear protestors arrested in Tokyo

Protest against Torness nuclear power station


Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Kofi Annan on Chernobyl

Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary General - 2000.

"Chernobyl is a word we would all like to erase from our memory. It [opened] a Pandora's box of invisible enemies and nameless anxieties in people's minds, but which most of us probably now think of as safely relegated to the past. Yet there are two compelling reasons why this tragedy must not be forgotten...First, if we forget Chernobyl, we increase the risk of more such technological and environmental disasters in the future. Second, more than seven million of our fellow human beings do not have the luxury of forgetting. They are still suffering, every day, as a result of what happened 14 years ago. Indeed, the legacy of Chernobyl will be with us, and with our descendants, for generations to come."

Friday, 6 May 2011

Arrested for filming near Sellafield

Four addresses searched of five men alleged to have been filming near nuclear site in Cumbria

Vikram Dodd and Helen Carter guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 3 May 2011

The Sellafield nuclear site: five men were arrested nearby under the Terrorism Act. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

Counter-terrorism officers are questioning five east London men alleged to have been filming near the Sellafield nuclear site in Cumbria.

The Metropolitan police said four houses in east London had been searched in a series of raids on addresses linked to those detained.

The five were arrested under section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which says a "constable may arrest without a warrant a person whom he reasonably suspects to be a terrorist". The investigation is at an early stage. Some past arrests by UK counter-terrorism officials have led to people being released without charge.

The arrests came hours after the death of Osama bin Laden had been announced and security was increased at key sites across the UK, though police say they are not "at this stage" connecting the arrests to the al-Qaida leader's death at the hands of US special forces.

The men were detained at 4.32pm on Monday after a vehicle was stopped and checked by officers from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC), which polices the facility in west Cumbria.

The five, all in their 20s and from London, were held in police custody overnight in Carlisle before being taken to Manchester on Tuesday morning, a spokesman for Cumbria police said. The investigation has been taken over by the north-west counter-terrorism unit.

The arrests, sources say, are not intelligence-led. The men may have been taking photographs or video footage, a source suggested. It is understood that a video camera was removed from the men.

The police have not confirmed the ethnicity of the arrested men, though they are believed to be from a Muslim background.

Sellafield confirmed that the five men had been arrested close to the site, saying: "It is a security issue and our security people are having discussions."

The spokesman said the plant had not been evacuated. Roads leading up to Sellafield were sealed off by police during the arrests, but security is likely to remain tight at the site for the next few weeks.

The sprawling coastal site is heavily protected by both private security guards and officers from the CNC, some of whom are armed.

According to reports last year, a counter-terrorism review of Britain's nuclear power plants was carried out after fears arose over safety at Sellafield.

Officials at HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, which is responsible for assessing the work of police forces across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, had begun an urgent assessment, it was claimed.

Concerns about protecting the plant may have come to light during an exercise in which special forces posed as terrorists to test security, said a report last December.

Sellafield is responsible for decommissioning and reprocessing nuclear waste and manufacturing fuel, on behalf of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

The site has been operating since the 1940s, when it was used as a Royal Ordnance factory supporting the second world war effort. The site is also home to the world's first commercial nuclear power station, Calder Hall, which operated from 1956 to 2003.

Today the site comprises redundant buildings associated with early defence work, and operating facilities associated with the Magnox reprocessing programme, the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (Thorp), the Sellafield Mox plant and a range of waste treatment plants.

Anti nuclear marchers arrested in India

THE Maharashtra government has plumbed yet another low by detaining and harassing 200-plus citizens from different parts of India who undertook a yatra (march) from Tarapur, the site of India's first nuclear reactors, southwards to Jaitapur, in Ratnagiri district, where India's newest nuclear project is being planned. The yatra began at Tarapur on April 23. It was to reach Pen the next morning, near the Mumbai-Goa Highway junction, and eventually, Jaitapur on April 25. The aim of the yatra, led by eminent citizens such as former Navy Chief Admiral L. Ramdas and former Supreme Court and Bombay High Court Judges P.B. Sawant and B.G. Kolse-Patil, was to express solidarity with the people who have fought the Jaitapur project for five years.

The police decided to break up the yatra and detain the yatris near Tarapur for eight hours without stating the reason. They bullied the drivers of the two hired buses carrying the yatris into abandoning the trip. The yatris arrived at Pen at 6 a.m., bedraggled and starved. Some were arrested and all of them detained for the whole day – under ludicrous sections of the colonial Bombay Police Act. Eventually, the yatra was stopped at Mahad in Raigad district, way short of Jaitapur.

The government's apologists have defended the shameful episode by arguing that the state was right to guard the “fragile peace” in Jaitapur after the unprovoked firing on April 18 in which one person, Tabrez Sayekar, was killed and at least 15 persons were injured. But the yatra had forsworn violence and its leaders could be expected to exercise restraint. However, the government allowed Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray to stir up things when he visited Sayekar's family on April 25.

The Maharashtra government has brought ignominy upon itself by abusing power and resorting to intimidation. It has dealt with the entire Jaitapur agitation over five years by harassing peaceful protesters with arbitrary arrests and detention and externment orders, confiscating their land, and threatening them. The area's sub-divisional officer (SDO) Ajit Pawar has gained notoriety for threatening to break their necks and legs. Even worse, former Chief Minister and currently Industries Minister Narayan Rane, known to prefer strong-arm tactics, accused the agitators of being brainwashed by “outsiders”. The Jaitapur project, planned to be the world's largest nuclear power station, can only go through with the use of the lathi, the bulldozer and, eventually, the gun. This would mock the very idea of development – officially regarded as something to be imposed upon unwilling populations, not as a process of deepening people's rights and expanding their freedoms – and democracy itself. The official approach must be condemned by citizens, political parties and public-spirited experts.

So far, the Left parties alone have issued such condemnations while opposing the Jaitapur project and warning against importing untested and potentially hazardous reactors. Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat now explicitly opposes not just Jaitapur but also the Haripur nuclear plant proposed for West Bengal. The Right, too, has got into the opposition act. The Shiv Sena, which had zealously supported the United States-India nuclear deal, now opposes its most tangible and visible outcome: Jaitapur. The Shiv Sena has no critique of nuclear power on grounds of safety, environmental sustainability or appropriateness, but opposes the project as a way of winning local support. But the autonomous grass-roots movement remains firmly outside its control.

In the early 1990s, the Shiv Sena had threatened to dump the Enron power project into the Arabian Sea. As soon as it came to power in Maharashtra, it was lobbied by Enron's Rebecca Mark into tripling the project's size! Much has been made of the Shiv Sena's desperation to shore up its base in Ratnagiri. But the Congress, too, is desperate to recover the considerable ground it has lost there. Narayan Rane sees himself as the Konkan region's unquestioned leader and a potential challenger to any Chief Minister. He foolishly thought the nuclear project would make the Congress popular.

As the government weighs the options of imposing the project or putting it on hold, the public must reflect on the record of nuclear power generation in the quarter-century since the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine. Chernobyl, coming seven years after another core meltdown, at Three Mile Island in the United States, is the world's worst-ever industrial accident, whose effects have unfolded gradually through radiation-induced cancers and leukaemias. Estimates of additional cancers, based on the conservative methods adopted by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, vary from 34,000 to 140,000, leading to 16,000 to 73,000 fatalities.

This puts Chernobyl in a unique class. The global nuclear industry never fully recovered from its political, psychological and economic effects. In the U.S., which has the world's highest number of reactors (104, followed by France's 58 and Japan's 55), the industry was already down in the dumps, having received no new reactor orders since 1973. Wall Street never embraced nuclear power despite low liability under the Price-Anderson Act. Nuclear power failed the market test. In Western Europe, not a single reactor has been built since Chernobyl.

Even before Fukushima, the global nuclear industry was in a structural crisis – some experts say, on “life support”. U.S. President George W. Bush tried to instigate a “nuclear renaissance” through subsidies. A decade later, this has turned sour. In fact, nuclear reactor start-ups have been in steady decline since the 1980s. Only China bucked the trend. But China, which has frozen all new projects since Fukushima, already has 4.5 times more installed wind power than nuclear capacity. In 2011, China will probably generate more electricity from wind than from nuclear reactors.

World nuclear-generating capacity has stagnated for 20 years. The number of operating reactors this past April 1 was 437 – compared with 444 in April 2002. Nuclear power output has declined annually by 2 per cent over the past four years and now accounts for only about 13 per cent of the world's electricity generation and 5.5 per cent of commercial primary energy.

These facts have been detailed in the just-released World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2010-2011: Nuclear Power in a Post-Fukushima World. In a report preview, at an event in Berlin hosted by the Heinrich Boll Foundation, which I attended, Mycle Schneider, its lead author and an independent energy expert, observed: “When the history of the nuclear industry is written, Fukushima is likely to introduce its final chapter.”

Renewable energy is growing rapidly worldwide. Says the report: “Annual renewables capacity additions have been outpacing nuclear start-ups for 15 years. In the U.S., the share of renewables in new capacity additions skyrocketed from 2 per cent in 2004 to 55 per cent in 2009, with no new nuclear coming on line.” In 2010, for the first time, “worldwide cumulated installed capacity of wind turbines (193 gigawatts), small hydropower (80 GW), biomass and waste-to-energy plants (65 GW), and solar power (43 GW) reached 381 GW, outpacing the installed nuclear capacity of 375 GW prior to the Fukushima disaster”. Total investment in renewable energy is estimated at $243 billion in 2010.

“The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) currently lists 64 reactors as ‘under construction' in 14 countries. By comparison, at the peak of the industry's growth phase in 1979, there were 233 reactors being built concurrently. In 2008, for the first time since the beginning of the Nuclear Age, no new unit was started up, while two were added in 2009, five in 2010, and two in the first three months of 2011. During the same time period, 11 reactors were shut down.”

In the European Union, 143 reactors were officially operational on April 1, down from the 1989 peak of 177. Western Europe's first reactor under construction since Chernobyl, at Olkiluoto in Finland, is in deep crisis – four years behind schedule, 90 per cent over budget, and caught in bitter litigation and disputes. The reactor is none other than the French government-owned Areva's European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) – the design to be installed in Jaitapur.

Meanwhile, Fukushima has dealt a huge blow to the global nuclear industry. As the Swiss investment bank UBS puts it: “At [Fukushima], four reactors have been out of control for weeks – casting doubt on whether even an advanced economy can master nuclear safety.… We believe the Fukushima accident was the most serious ever for the credibility of nuclear power.”

Fukushima will almost certainly exacerbate the global nuclear industry's crisis and accelerate its decline. To imagine that nuclear power is the energy source of the future is to indulge in daydreaming. But India's nuclear czars are doing just that while denying the gravity of the Fukushima crisis. Their rosy assumptions about Jaitapur ignore a cardinal fact: namely, the EPR has become the world's most controversial reactor. Its capital costs have surged to $5,000 a kilowatt – compared with just over $1,000/kW for coal-based power and under $1,500 for wind in India.
Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) officials claim, parrot-like, that the EPR design is safe. But the design has not received approval anywhere, including France. Nuclear regulators in Finland, France, Britain and the U.S. have raised 3,000 queries about it. A French government-appointed expert recommends further design modifications and optimisation. The design is yet to be frozen.

So the DAE's claim is absurd and irrational. But then, the DAE has never been known for rationality and responsible conduct. Its top officials became the laughing stock of the world scientific community by declaring that the March 12 and 14 hydrogen explosions at Fukushima, at the root of which lay serious fuel damage, were “a purely chemical reaction and not a nuclear emergency” (Secretary Srikumar Banerjee). Nuclear Power Corporation Chairman S.K. Jain even described the crisis not as a “nuclear accident or incident” but “a well-planned emergency preparedness programme… to contain the residual heat after… an automatic shutdown”.

Fukushima raises troubling questions about nuclear safety, in particular the important question as to whether nuclear reactors can ever be operated safely. Engineers who have designed, operated and licensed reactors tell us that all existing reactor types are vulnerable to a loss-of-coolant-accident (LOCA), leading to a partial or complete core meltdown and a catastrophic release of radioactivity. A LOCA may be precipitated by any number of causes, including operator error, equipment failure or malfunction, loss of power, or natural disasters. Its consequences are hard to predict and control.

Three Mile Island and Chernobyl were not caused by natural disasters. Nor, accurately speaking, was Fukushima. What triggered Fukushima's three LOCAs was a station blackout caused by the reactor shutdown after the earthquake, followed by a tsunami which knocked out the backup power and cooling system. But a station blackout is not rare and may be triggered by a variety of factors.

Most industry claims about the low likelihood of nuclear accidents are based on probabilistic risk analysis (PRA), a flawed method, as the physicist M.V. Ramana argues in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (April 19). In 1975, a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission study predicted that a meltdown would only occur once in 20,000 reactor-years (number of reactors multiplied by years of operation).

Globally, there have been close to 15,000 reactor-years of operation. But meltdowns have already occurred in five reactors. As Thomas Cochran of the Natural Resources Defence Council said, depending on how core damage is defined, other accidents should also be included. Says Ramana, “The actuarial frequency of severe accidents may be as high as 1 in 1,400 reactor-years.” For the world's 437 reactors, an accident may occur every 3.2 years.

Accidents are inevitable in nuclear reactors. Their probability may be low, albeit usually – and disastrously – understated by PRA. But their consequences are enormous. Their human, environmental and economic damage is unconscionably high and will cost hundreds of billions of dollars to remedy. This is much, much higher than the Nuclear Liability Bill limit of a paltry few hundred millions. The central lesson from Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima is this: If you do not want nuclear disasters, do not generate nuclear power. In India, what the country needs is an independent safety review of all its nuclear installations conducted by a team which includes non-DAE experts and civil society representatives. Pending it, there must be a moratorium on further nuclear activities and revocation of recent clearances to nuclear projects.

This means that projects such as Jaitapur, cleared for political, strategic, economic and diplomatic reasons, in violation of sound environmental considerations, must be put on hold. There are compelling reasons for revoking the clearance granted to Jaitapur just six days before French President Nicolas Sarkozy's last visit to India. Overwhelming, informed public opposition is not the least of them.

The alternative is to push through the Jaitapur project by crushing peaceful opposition and by riding roughshod over all considerations of political decency, democracy and the fundamental right of people to reject a project they consider wantonly destructive and unsafe.

An informal information platform for activists and scholars concerned about the dangers of Nuclearisation in South Asia

Dying for TEPCO at Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan

By Paul Jobin       Asia Times Online, 4 May 2011

While Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) experiences difficulties in recruiting workers willing to go to Fukushima to clean up the damaged reactors, the World Health Organization (WHO) is planning to conduct an epidemiological survey on the catastrophe. This is the first of two reports offering a worker-centered analysis of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

In the titanic struggle to bring to closure the dangerous situation at Fukushima Nuclear Plant No1, there are many signs that TEPCO is facing great difficulties in finding workers. At present, there are nearly 700 people at the site. As in ordinary times, workers rotate so as to limit the cumulative dose of radiation inherent in maintenance and cleanup work at the nuclear site. But this time, the risks are greater, and the method of recruitment unusual.

Job offers come not from TEPCO but from Mizukami Kogyo, a company whose business is construction and cleaning maintenance. The description indicates only that the work is at a nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture. The job is specified as three hours per day at an hourly wage of 10,000 yen (about US$122). There is no information about danger, only the suggestion to ask the employer for further details on food, lodging, transportation and insurance.

Those who answer these offers may have little awareness of the dangers and they are likely to have few other job opportunities. A rate of $122 an hour is hardly a king's ransom given the risk of cancer from high radiation levels. But TEPCO and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) keep diffusing their usual propaganda to minimize the radiation risks.

Rumor has it that many of the cleanup workers are burakumin (a minority group dating from Japan's feudal era and still often associated with discrimination). This cannot be verified, but it would be congruent with the logic of the nuclear industry and the difficult job situation of day laborers. Because of ostracism, some burakumin are also involved with yakuza, or organized crime groups. Therefore, it would not be surprising that yakuza-burakumin recruit other burakumin to go to Fukushima. Yakuza are active in recruiting day laborers of the yoseba (communities for day laborers): Sanya in Tokyo, Kotobukicho in Yokohama, and Kamagasaki in Osaka. People who live in precarious conditions are then exposed to high levels of radiation, doing the most dirty and dangerous jobs in the nuclear plants, then are sent back to the yoseba. Those who fall ill will not even appear in the statistics. [1]

Before the catastrophe ...

According to data published by NISA, in 2009, there were 1,108 regular employees (seisha'in at Fukushima NP1. These were TEPCO employees, but may also include some employees from General Electric or Toshiba, Hitachi and Mitsubishi. But the vast majority of those working at Fukushima 1 were 9,195 contract laborers (hiseisha'in).

These contract employees or temporary workers were provided by subcontracting companies: they range from rank and file workers who carry out the dirtiest and most dangerous tasks - the nuclear gypsies described in Horie Kunio's 1979 book Nuclear Gypsy and Higuchi Kenji's photographic reports - to highly qualified technicians who supervise maintenance operations.

So even within this category, there is much discrepancy in working conditions, wages and welfare depending on position in the hierarchy of subcontracted tasks. What is clear is that the contract laborers are routinely exposed to the highest level of radiation: in 2009 according to NISA, of those who received a dose between 5 and 10 millisieverts (mSv), there were 671 contract laborers against 36 regular employees. Those who received between 10 and 15 mSv were comprised of 220 contract laborers and two regular workers, while 35 contract workers and no regular workers were exposed to a dose between 15 and 20 mSv.

Since contract laborers move from one nuclear plant to another, depending on the maintenance schedule of the various reactors, they lack access to their individual cumulative dose for one year or for many years. NISA compiles only the cumulative dose for each nuclear plant. The result is that the whole system is opaque, thus complicating the procedure for workers who need to apply for occupational hazards compensation.

... and after

On March 14, three days after the earthquake and tsunami that caused the damage at Fukushima, the Ministry of Health and Labor raised the maximum dose for workers to 250 mSv a year, where previously it was set at 100 mSv over five years (either 20 mSv a year for five years or 50 mSv for two years, which is in itself a strange interpretation of the recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection's guideline stipulating a maximum of 20 mSv a year. The letter that the ministry sent the next day to the chiefs of labor bureaus to inform them of the decision justifies it on the grounds of the state of emergency, ignoring the safety of the workers. [2]

This could be a measure to avoid or limit the number of workers who would apply for compensation. Stated differently, it has the effect of legalizing illness and deaths from nuclear radiation, or at least the state's responsibility for them. Usually, in case of leukemia, a one year exposure to 5 mSV is sufficient to obtain occupational hazards compensation. The list of potential applicants could be very long in light of the number of workers already on the job, or who are likely to be recruited to dismantle the reactors. The project proposed by Toshiba to close down and safeguard the reactors would take at least 10 years. [3]

In short, the state's concern appears to be less the health of employees and more the cost of caring for nuclear victims. The same logic prevailed when, on April 23, the government urged children back to the schools of Fukushima prefecture, stating that the risk of 20 mSv or more per year was acceptable, despite the high vulnerability of children. Can the state be prioritizing the limitation of the burden of compensation for TEPCO and protection of the nuclear industry at large over the health of workers and children? [4]

Why subcontracting?

As early as the mid-1970s, the use of subcontracting labor in the nuclear industry was well established in Japan. In France, this trend would develop after 1988, reaching a rate of 80% by 1992. According to NISA's data, in 2009, Japan's nuclear industry recruited more than 80,000 contract workers against 10,000 regular employees. The initial goal was not necessarily to hide the collective dose, but to limit labor costs. But the fact is that whether in France or Japan, the nuclear industry nurtures a heavy culture of secrecy concerning the number of irradiated workers.

As far as we can know, based on the figures published by the Ministry of Health and Labor, before Fukushima's catastrophe, only nine former workers received compensation for an occupational cancer linked to their intervention in nuclear plants. [5] This number is probably very far from the reality of the victims, given the number of workers exposed and the numerous opacities of that system beginning with the fact that TEPCO and other electric power companies have always refused to disclose the list of their subcontractors.

The objective of epidemiological surveys

An epidemiological survey published in March, just before the catastrophe, was based on a huge cohort of 212,000 persons recorded between 1990 and 1999, out of the total of 277,000 who had worked in nuclear plants. The survey found a significant mortality ratio for only one type of leukemia and judged that other forms of cancer among this population could not be attributed to their exposure to radiation at nuclear plants.

One problem is that the survey only calculates mortality ratios, ignoring people who might have cancer but are still alive at the time of the survey. Such obvious methodological bias is frequent in this sort of surveys. In France and other countries, another bias is the tendency to ignore contract workers, though they receive the highest cumulative radioactive doses. Therefore, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that the very goal of these epidemiological surveys is to minimize the risks of nuclear radiation and encourage the nuclear industry's business as usual.

The same logic has prevailed at the WHO and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in their evaluation of Chernobyl's legacy. Compared to a mere 4,000 in the "definitive" United Nations report published in 2005, [6] the report published in November 2009 by the New York Academy of Sciences (based on more than 5,000 articles translated from Belorussian, Ukrainian and Russian) evaluated the total number of victims 985,000. [7] Of the 830,000 liquidators mobilized at Chernobyl, the Academy of Sciences report estimated that at least 112,000 had already died, compared to some 50 in the UN report.

While the conclusions of the two reports remain contested, even Nakajima Hiroshi, a former WHO director, has acknowledged that the control of WHO by IAEA on nuclear issues was problematic. [8] Therefore we can anticipate that the survey WHO is planning to conduct on Fukushima may provide the same anodyne conclusions.


1. In the 1980-90s, Fujita Yuko, then professor of physics at Keio University, distributed leaflets warning day laborers not to accept these dangerous jobs. See Higuchi Kenji's documentary in Kamagasaki.
2. Link.
3. On the decommissioning of nuclear plants, see NHK's recent documentary.
4. See the reaction of the chairman of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations to this decision, and the protest petition online.
5. For more details, see the reports of the Citizen Nuclear Information Center's homepage, mainly written by Watanabe Mikiko, who has provided constant follow up and support for these workers (use the following keywords: workers, worker exposure, Nagao Mitsuaki, Kiyuna Tadashi, Umeda Ryusuke, Shimahashi Nobuyuki.).
6. Link.
7. For a presentation of this survey, see this link. Alexey V. Yablokov (Center for Russian Environmental Policy, Moscow, Russia), Vassily B. Nesterenko, and Alexey V. Nesterenko (Institute of Radiation Safety, Minsk, Belarus). Consulting Editor Janette D. Sherman-Nevinger, Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment (New York: New York Academy of Sciences, 2009).
8. See the following reports (French only) on the protests in Switzerland about the control of WHO by AIEA on nuclear issues: 1, 2.

Paul Jobin is director, French Center for Research on Contemporary China, CEFC, Taipei Office, and Associate Professor, University of Paris Diderot.

(Republished with permission from Japan Focus.)