APR: your source for nuclear news and analysis since April 16, 2010

Friday, July 29, 2011

Nuclear Energy in Japan: The Scandal Widens

Recently, we were all fairly interested to see the effect in Japan when it was revealed that Kyushu Electric Power Company carried out an e-mail campaign to get its employees and the employees of some of its contractors to essentially "stuff the ballot boxes," as it were, at a public symposium on nuclear energy. The negative backlash from this discovery was the instant reversal of the opinion of local governments who had said that they would allow the restarting of the Genkai station.


The backlash now apparently includes at least in part a campaign by one Professor Hiromitsu Ino, a professor in metallurgy who has written a paper concerning Genkai-1's pressure vessel and passed it to a major anti-nuclear group in Japan.


We have further evidence that there are a growing number of anti-nuclear blogs launching in Japan, having been linked a few over the last several weeks by commenters and e-mailers.

Now, there is another revelation which begins to seriously undermine the credibility of the major operative nuclear overseer in Japan, the NISA. Today a number of outlets in Japan are carrying the story that Chubu Electric Power Company essentially carried out the same kind of campaign that Kyushu did, but did so back in 2007 at a live forum in Shizuoka. The company both helped fill the conference venue with participants and arranged for pre-written questions to be asked, apparently some by citizens.

Chubu reports that this was done at the request of NISA.

I have commented here, on the ANS Nuclear Cafe blog where I guest posted recently, and in various e-mails that the relationship in Japan wherein the operative nuclear overseeing agency is a part of the ministry of industry/trade is questionable at best in terms of intent, and this revelation begins to support some of our deeper fears about what such an arrangement might allow or even encourage.

We learned this lesson a long time ago here and made the moves necessary to ensure that such a thing cannot occur. The part of the government responsible for promoting nuclear energy is NOT the same part that regulates nuclear energy (DOE Office of Nuclear Energy, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, respectively.) The functions used to be under the same roof -- the old AEC -- until 1974. Worries about central requirements of promotion and safety regulation led to the split.

In Japan, however, the arrangement is much different as noted and it now appears, if all of the things Chubu Electric has mentioned are true, that the kind of thing the Japanese public have been suspicious of since Fukushima has probably been occurring a lot longer. This may turn out to be one of the larger nuclear energy regulatory scandals ever unfolded - especially if more cases like this are turned out by other companies.

This is the last sort of thing that nuclear energy in Japan needs. It may bear out that the future of nuclear in Japan will have little to do with SBO mitigation, tsunami barriers or SSE criteria but will instead simply hinge on something more basic and more familiar to anyone anywhere, which is trust.

5:20 PM Eastern Friday July 29, 2011


  1. Serious stuff. It looks, in any case, like the regulator will be separated from the trade ministry in the very near future; but culture change will certainly take longer, as it does in any group.

    I would still like to know how many of the Kyushu employees who wrote comments or asked questions were also residents of the area. However I probably never will hear more, this being the kind of "negative news" that no-one researches (or, if it turns out that only say all but 3 were locals, is too unsensational to print).

  2. Good gosh. What a time to smear the atom -- right on the doorstep of Aug 6th no less! Are they really going to throw the baby out with the bathwater and maybe just suck nuke juice from neighboring countries? I mean even Vietnam having reactors! Doesn't ANYBODY read nuclear's enviable safety record despite Fugushima?? This is a prime example of a total failute at public relations/education. To me, the only thing that can really save their nukes is to bring them all under the umberella of some new public agency that their public would trust, along the lines of NASA or even have them all sold and foreign run. That'd take them off a lot of dirty hands. I hope reason and rationality prevails there before the windmills pop up on Mount Fugi.

    James Greenidge

  3. And its posts like this that make this blog so credible. Well done Will.

    Man can never know the future with absolute certainty, the best he can do is go on the probabilities of a given design and operation being successful.

    It seems to me that with nuclear the certainty of a big long term mess is high if the probabilities are not adequately designed for and constantly questioned by experts. To have the designers and questioners all in the one organisation is not the way to do it.

    There's an old saying "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely". Having them all in the one bed grows absolute power that stifles questions.

    Hopefully Japan will learn from this. What is the situation in other countries with nuclear power?

  4. @Keith: Thank you; no one gets a free pass on this site, and the birds are coming home to roost for NISA if all this proves out to be what it's starting to look like.

    All the electric power companies are reporting on this and in fact TEPCO's report is hot off the presses right now. I'll report on that tomorrow.

    I don't know what the regulatory situation in the other nuclear nations is but that is a VERY good question and one I'll look into.

  5. The Japanese "Zaibatsu", big family-owned multi-corporations, with their own banks, were deliberately broken up by the U S Occupation after the war. Or at least, partially broken up. However, the Japanese idea of diverse groups cooperating remained in place. This also included more cooperation between industry and government than is typical of many other countries.

    This has obvious advantages in some circumstances, but it is clearly NOT the way to regulate nuclear power.

  6. Will, great job, good to see a Nuclear blog NOT just being a shrill to promote the industry.

  7. @Steveo: Thank you very much. I try to report on, and analyze, ALL the news, both technical and political ... and both good for nuclear and bad for nuclear.

  8. What we need is a lightweight handheld air pollution detector that reads out the level of small particulates from diesel and coal burning, so people can assess their personal risk level.

    Something like this -- for fossil fuels pollution