Nuclear security falls short

The second Nuclear Security Summit was held in Seoul on March 26 and 27, attended by leaders from 53 countries and representatives of four international organizations. The dangers of nuclear terrorism and improvement of nuclear security discussed at the summit are pressing issues Japan must seriously consider because it has experienced the fiasco at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The Seoul summit, which followed the first NSS in April 2010 in Washington and hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama, discussed such measures as how to keep highly enriched uranium and plutonium out of the hands of terrorists and ensuring the security of nuclear plants following the Fukushima nuclear accident..

The simple and most important lesson of the Fukushima nuclear disaster is that terrorists do not need missiles or bombs to cause a catastrophic accident at a nuclear power plant. If they manage to breach the security of a nuclear power plant and cut off its power supply, they could forcibly disable the plant’s cooling mechanisms and render it uncontrollable, leading to a release of a massive amounts of radioactive substances in the worst case.

Unlike the efforts made by the United States, Japan’s power industry, the trade and industry ministry and the latter’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency have paid almost no attention to the danger of nuclear terrorism. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has steadily worked on improving measures to maintain or restore the cooling systems at nuclear facilities even if terrorists were able to set off an explosion or cause a fire inside a nuclear power site.

The possibility cannot be ruled out that if Tepco and the government had taken a multi-redundancy approach to secure power supplies at Fukushima No. 1 in anticipation of a possible nuclear terrorist attack, as the U.S. has done, they might have managed to mitigate the severity of the Fukushima accident.

Additionally, in an unforgivable and unbelievable omission, Tepco failed to confirm the identity of 184 workers who worked at Fukushima No. 1 in March and April 2011.

In Seoul, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced steps Japan will take to improve security at nuclear power plants. But given the track record of the Japanese government and the power industry, there is no guarantee that the situation will improve. In addition to the inadequacy of anti-terrorism security measures, Japan’s possession of more than 40 tons of plutonium also poses a problem. These facts should make the Japanese government rethink the wisdom of restarting nuclear power plants without setting a timetable for phasing out nuclear power.