Fukushima No. 1 engineer’s warning to Taiwan: Nuclear power unstable

by Ko Shu-Ling

Kyodo

A Japanese engineer who helped build reactor 4 at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant said such plants are inherently unstable, urging Taiwan to ditch atomic energy for renewable resources.

Mitsuhiko Tanaka, arriving in Taipei on Tuesday with a delegation of Diet members for a six-day visit, told a press conference Wednesday that the 1986 Chernobyl disaster changed his views on nuclear power.

“Nuclear accidents are bound to happen someday, only that we don’t know when they will happen,” he said.

Tanaka, who helped build part of reactor 4 while working at Hitachi Ltd. in 1974, quit the company in 1977 and became a writer. He chronicled the discovery of a manufacturing defect in reactor 4, and the subsequent coverup, in a book in 1990.

When he went in 1988 to the then-Ministry of International Trade and Industry to report the cover-up, the government refused to investigate it and Hitachi denied his accusations.

Little did he know that the manufacturing defect would resurface decades later after the March 11, 2011, magnitude-9 earthquake off the Pacific coast rocked the plant, spawning a tsunami that robbed it of all power and disabled its cooling systems, triggering three core meltdowns.

Reactor 4 was shut for maintenance during the crisis but hit by hydrogen explosions and a fire that spread from adjacent units.

At the news conference, House of Representatives member Taro Kono joined Tanaka in his opposition to nuclear power.

Urging Taiwan’s government to make information publicly accessible, Kono voiced disappointment that Taiwan Power Co., operator of the island’s three nuclear plants, had refused to let the politicians visit one of them.

Kono, who in 2009 unsuccessfully ran to become president of the Liberal Democratic Party (and thus prime minister) like his father, Yohei Kono, said his colleagues urged him during the campaign to refrain from opposing nuclear energy.

“I hope Taiwan doesn’t repeat the same mistake as we did,” he said.

Tanaka and Kono are among the many Japanese who have turned their backs on or ramped up opposition to the nuclear industry since the meltdowns in Fukushima, which forced thousands from their homes. Former leaders Junichiro Koizumi and Morihiro Hosokawa have joined the chorus, challenging Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pro-nuclear stance as Hosokawa vies to become Tokyo’s new governor.

  • 1Billiam

    Japanese government need to make changes in their political culture. Mitsuhiko Tanaka, wrote a book about this in 1988 and was ignored.

    • Starviking

      Perhaps it was not a good book?

  • 1Billiam

    Japanese people need to make the politicians change the political culture. Plenty of warning for Fukushima. Nothing done repeatedly. other problems before the tsunami… ignored. Mitsuhiko Tanaka must have strong character to admit his part, and also in speaking up continually.

  • http://www.sheldonthinks.com/ Andrew Sheldon

    Such appraisals are rather pathetic when they come from scientists. His reason for rejecting nuclear power was because of Chernobyl; a poorly designed plant run by disillusioned, tragic underfunded communists. The world has moved on. That’s not to say that the rationale for nuclear by Taiwan is valid, or that they have done the required research, but this is really lame. We could argue that the ‘perceptions before facts’ nature of collectivist govts is reason not to develop nuclear power, but I’m hard-pressed to think of anything collectivist govts are good for, besides looting.

    • P Mahone

      Nice to see a reasoned, intelligent article unlike the ideological ranting from A Sheldon above. Almost thought I was going to agree with one point, though, when he conceded he was “hard-pressed to think of anything”.

      • http://www.sheldonthinks.com/ Andrew Sheldon

        Geez, I give you the opportunity to disprove me, and you fall short. You only needed to identify one good deed by collectivist govts, and you failed to do that. Would you like a 2nd chance?

      • P Mahone

        Not really but what I would like is your definition of a “collectivist” govt. I guess, and it is only a guess, that it is the opposite of a one-person government – a dictatorship or a monarchy – right?

        Or, alternatively, is it just a bit ideological short hand used to cover up the lack of a coherent argument?

      • http://www.sheldonthinks.com/ Andrew Sheldon

        Perhaps you ought to look up the definition of words before you make rash judgements or insinuations. You are clueless as to the meaning of the word. You cynicism no doubt comes from your ardent scepticism. Which raises another issue in your thinking. What is wrong with ideology? Do you really think you have discounted all plausible ideologies? Sounds a bit closed minded.

  • 1Billiam

    Japan without Nuclear power ? never will happen I dont think.

    • windship

      Why not, they are sitting on a bounty of geothermal options.

      • Sam Gilman

        Really? The highest estimates I have seen of available geothermal would meet around 15% of current electricity needs (and that’s only part of our energy consumption); that estimate is optimistic in terms what is feasibly exploitable. What do you base your views on that geothermal could adequately replace nuclear?

  • Ned Childs

    Civilian nuclear power was never a good idea. Investments in uranium ore in post-1945-USA by people who “don’t like to take a hair cut” ensured this devilish business; 1957 anti-Constitutional Price-Anderson Act giveaway by Congress was a necessary government subsidy to ensure nuclear power got established. Uninsurable … hence should not have been allowed: a bad, stupid, criminal move. IAEA criminally complicit. Shut them all down. Civilian nuclear power was never necessary or even, ever, a good idea. Anti-life. Long-lived toxins. Completely unnecessary. Sad. Tragic, really. peace …

  • Mikkel Georgsen

    Fact is that it’s all about the generations of Nuclear Power.

    _All_ Nuclear Power Plants that has had problems and accidents are Gen1 plants – plants being built today are Gen4 plants. Gen4 plants have zero nuclear waste – on top of that there has never been any problems with Gen2 or Gen3 plants.

    If the treehuggers could stop for a moment and think – they should be asking their governments to replace 2-3 Gen1 plants with 1 new Gen4 plant – saving the Government money in the long run, reducing risk and enjoy the cleanest form of energy that is – Gen4 nuclear is the way forward – wind and solar is fine for small scale stuff but for large scale power it’s Gen4 Nuclear or pollution.

    • Sam Gilman

      You’re right about the overall watt for watt safety record of nuclear power being excellent, and about how clean it is comparatively, and that the latest generation of reactors are clearly better. However, for accuracy’s sake: Fukushima and Three Mile island were gen2 reactors – the problem at Fukushima was the lack of passive cooling (ie cut all power and the cooling system still runs for a few days) that typifies gen3 plants.

      The economics of energy actually suggest, as far as I understand them, that the best low carbon combination (in the absence of large scale hydro) is nuclear for the main part and renewables + storage to handle the peaking/ load following. All renewables means building out huge redundant capacity and immense storage, while using nuclear to provide variable output is uneconomic.

  • Starviking

    Reactor 4 was defueled, so the supposed flaw in the reactor containment vessel could not have had any effect – the reactor was for all intents and purposes inert.

    As for zirconium fuel fires and melted fuel rods, you must be getting news from some interesting sources, as the reactor building you describe does not sound like the one TEPCO is retrieving fuel rods from.