Exports that defy reason

Following an April 4 “yes” vote by the Lower House, the Upper House on Friday approved civilian nuclear accords Japan has signed with Turkey and the United Arab Emirates to enable the export of Japanese equipment and technology for nuclear power generation to them.

The big question, though, is why a country that suffered a disaster at a nuclear power plant (which remains ongoing) three years ago would choose to push the export of nuclear power plants — and especially to countries that are prone to earthquakes, like Turkey. It is deplorable from moral and other viewpoints that the Abe administration treats the export of nuclear power equipment and technology as a pillar in its economic growth strategy. Japan concluded similar nuclear accords with Jordan, Vietnam, South Korea and Russia under the previous Democratic Party of Japan-led administration.

At present, the government is negotiating civilian nuclear cooperation with five more countries — India, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.

The Diet approval came with the support of the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the DPJ at a time when Japan’s own crisis, caused by the triple meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, shows no signs of resolution. More than 130,000 residents of Fukushima Prefecture are still displaced from their homes due to radioactive contamination of their communities more than three years after the nuclear crisis. Although the DPJ after the March 2011 Fukushima disaster called for ending nuclear power generation in the 2030s, it supported plans for Japan to export nuclear power technology.

As demonstrated in the Fukushima catastrophe, a large-scale accident at a nuclear power plant causes irreparable damage to people’s lives and the environment. If such an accident occurs at a plant in another country built with exported Japanese technology, both the Japanese government and the manufacturers of the technology would likely be expected to shoulder some of the responsibility. Even if they offer to pay compensation, they could be criticized for giving priority to business interests over human lives and the environment.

In addition, high-level waste from nuclear power plants must be stored underground for more than 100,000 years before its radioactivity declines to safe levels. The safe storage of such waste for such a long period presents extremely difficult technological problems to which solutions have yet to be established. So this toxic burden would pass on to future generations. Given this reality, it would be irresponsible for Japan to export nuclear power technology and equipment.

Although the nuclear accords in principle are designed to prevent military use of the nuclear materials, equipment and technology, the accord with Turkey is problematic.

A clause in the accord states that Turkey can enrich uranium or reprocess spent nuclear fuel if Japan agrees in writing to a specific instance of enrichment or reprocessing. Enriched uranium and plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel can be used to make nuclear weapons. Thus the clause runs counter to global efforts against nuclear proliferation.

The Abe administration’s policy could also result in Japanese firms continuing to devote a large amount of resources on nuclear power, possibly discouraging them from investing in the development and expansion of renewable energy sources — the “sunrise” industries where Japan’s future prosperity lies. The government must rethink its policy of promoting the export of nuclear power equipment and technology.

  • DiogenesNJ

    “…high-level waste from nuclear power plants must be stored underground
    for more than 100,000 years before its radioactivity declines to safe
    levels.”

    This claim is frequently heard, but it is highly misleading without understanding the assumptions behind it. First, “safe level” is arbitrary because the activity (and the risk) declines continuously. When the fuel comes out of the reactor, 99.99% of the activity is in 3 isotopes: Sr90, Cs137 and Am241. The first two decay to 1/10,000th of their original radioactivity within 700-800 years, which is well within the span of existing human structures. Am241 is longer-lived but much less dangerous. It is a pure alpha-particle emitter — no beta or gamma. So it is quite harmless unless you ingest it. It is used commercially in smoke detectors, which have no special disposal requirements (at least in the US).

    The second point is the assumption that medical technology will not continue to advance. Vaccination was discovered a little more than 200 years ago. Today, smallpox no longer exists in nature. Why would you think cancer will be as feared 500 years from now as it is today? It seems highly unlikely that low-level radiation will be seen as terrifying half a millennium from now. That’s a time scale we can deal with.

    • GuestingAgain88

      Leaving an insurmountable problem like nuclear waste for future generations while “wishing and a-hoping” that a solution will be found for it is selfish and inhumane.

      Seventy years ago they thought there would be a solution to the waste by now and there isn’t.

      And there isn’t a cure for cancer and there probably never will be. But cancer DOES cause much pain, suffering and economic ruin. Is that okay to leave to future generations, too?

      All for an energy, nuclear energy, which the world doesn’t even need and which could be easily replaced with conservation and Renewable Energy.

      • DiogenesNJ

        Of course there is a solution. France is doing it now. Yucca Mountain in the US is perfectly feasible, we just won’t use it because of…. well, people like you. The vitrification process used to process waste so it is resistant to leaching by water was developed 30 years ago and has been in large scale use for 20+ years.

        “And there isn’t a cure for cancer and there probably never will be”. With this statement, you make yourself the intellectual heir to the European flagellants blaming the Black Death on an angry god. We learned how infectious disease works, and we will learn how to inhibit cancer.

        Your capitalization of “renewable energy” is completely appropriate for the religious article of faith it obviously is for you. But out there in the real world, China is building a couple of coal-fired power plants a week,. the emissions of which are carried on the wind to Japan — not in the rare aftermath of an accident, but every day, all the time.

        http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/China_and_coal

        Do a little more reading about *routine* coal emissions, and think about whether nuclear power might actually be a lower risk to public health.

      • Norman Frazier

        No there is no solution, Yucca Flats has gone seismically active. France is starving for energy and refusing to frack for oil and gas.
        No nonsense, We face Nuclear Winter, we need all the carbon in the atmosphere we can get. Fukushima is polluting at the rate of one nuclear bomb detonated ever week for three years with no solution in sight.

      • Starviking

        Two scientifically false statements in one post…impressive. Yukka Mountain has always been seismically active – as is most of the world. Yukka is not active enough to present a problem.

        As for the world facing a nuclear winter – are you expecting a large scale nuclear weapons exchange any time soon? If yes, you suggest we should preemptively dump as much co2 in the atmosphere as we can just in case?

      • SmelltheCoffee00

        @DiogenesNJ – you said “France is doing it”

        If you mean that France is piping their nuclear waste directly into the sea AND sending a lot of it to Siberia than you are correct.

        EVERYONE should watch the youtube video “Nightmare Nuclear Waste” to see what countries are REALLY doing with their waste.

      • Starviking

        France reprocesses and reuses a lot of their waste at the La Hague reprocessing plant. They are also pursuing deep storage repositories and reactors to transmute long-term waste into shorter-lived waste.

      • Kenneth Johnstone

        That’s right. The world doesn’t need nuclear because Japan’s Sumitomo Mitsui Bank has just agreed to loans of 260 billion yen (US $2.5 billion) for a power generation project in Burma, a project that two Japanese heavy machinery makes will take part in, to build a power generation station that will be a coal-fired plant, with an output of 1.28 million kilowatts. That’s conservation and renewable energy at it’s best. Good job!

      • zer0_0zor0

        …it’s a mess, to put it lightly.

      • Starviking

        And what about fossil fuels, which threaten to push the climate past a tipping point of no return. Hmmm… Permanently altered world climate, or some long-half life radioisotopes adding incrementally to the world’s natural stocks? Not a hard call.

    • Norman Frazier

      True, but a nuclear reactor (3) gone critical produces 1000s of different nuclear isotopes. Some of these have never been on the face of the earth before.

      • Starviking

        So?

  • GuestingAgain88

    So Japan is exporting nuclear proliferation.
    What are the penalties and when will they be penalized and by which country/agency?

    • Norman Frazier

      Your health is the only penalty and you have to sue before you die is the only justice for shortening your life to three more years.

  • Steve Novosel

    Another day, another anti-nuclear editorial in the Japan Times. I wish there was a hint of rationality in all this anti-nuclear hysteria, though. By JT’s logic, any country that suffers an industrial disaster should stop all work in that industry and not share said technology with other countries.

    I see the US stopped all pesticide production after one of its companies, Union Carbide, had an industrial accident far worse than the Fukushima disaster in Bhopal, India – killing 5000+ and causing countless cases of cancer and other illnesses. And unlike Fukushima, this disaster was not caused by a natural disaster causing circumstances far beyond the plant’s design specs, but rather pure negligence.

    Surely the US stopped all pesticide production, told its companies to stop exporting pesticide production capabilities worldwide, right? Wait, no? Where is the outrage from JT’s editorial staff?

    I suppose after the Piper Alpha disaster killed 167 workers, JT called for Occidental Petroleum to stop all oil production, and deemed export of oil production technology “morally deplorable”? No?

    And you mean that the industry learned from that disaster and is much safer now? Hmm.

    You really need to put some rational thought into this position, JT, not just a knee-jerk “I don’t understand radiation, so nuclear power should be banned!” response.

    • zer0_0zor0

      You do make a number of valid and rational points, but you fail to mention several salient facts: thorium is a potentially safer alternative; Fukushima’s plants were inferior products from GE built in the 1950s that TEPCO was culpably negligent for not replacing much earlier; and the magnitude of the disaster threat attributable to nuclear power is dwarfed by almost everything else–though I would also mention the existence of Super Fund sites in the USA related to pollution largely by chemical companies such as the one you mentioned above.

      In light of the coal problem it is not realistic to expect nuclear power to be “banned” globally any time soon, as global warming increasingly poses a more imminent threat. However, even though the technology Japan is exporting is deemed to provide a high degree of safety, it is still obsolete in some ways given the promising potential of thorium.

      So the question becomes, are there still vested interests like GE and TEPCO controlling (or exerting undue influence over) government decisions related to the course of development concerning these issues?

      That is certainly not a sustainable model.

    • Starviking

      And of course, Onagawa definitely survived the earthquake, and Fukushima in all probability would have, if the tsunami had not intervened.

  • Norman Frazier

    Fukushima, a natural disaster or human failure, is both. It is still on-going.
    This is an ELE (End of Life Event) for the world. There is nowhere to run. The first spread of nuke toxin was by air. The more deadly is by water scheduled to arrive in full force in two days on the west coast of America. It will not stop guaranteed for at least three more years because that is how long it has been escaping from Japan. Japan has no solutions for stopping it in the near future, say next 50 years.

    • Starviking

      So, the water from Fukushima is deadly to the US, but for some reason is ok to Japan? We’ve been eating Fukushima produce in Tohoku for the past 2 years – no mass deaths yet.

  • Norman Frazier

    Japan has refused help when it was offered instead turning to the UK for consulting since it is the UK that is selling it nuclear ore. The UK has failed to find a solution. A solution was offered by the Oil industry, but was considered politically incorrect. The Oil industry offered to drill down, frack, and pump nuke toxin through the ground several miles below Fukushima. they also offered to drill below the runaway critical masses and attempt to poison the nuclear reactions going on currently at a depth of 18 miles down.
    Too late now as the “coriums” are going beyond the reach of Oil industry equipment.

    • Starviking

      References please.

  • Starviking

    The repository did not blow up. And as for plankton, global warming is the one thing certain to impact their oxygen-generating role – any radiation level strong enough to impact them would sterilize the Earth.

  • Sam Gilman

    Hi Norman,

    Could you explain – in your own words, no cutting and pasting – what you think a nuclear winter is?

    I’m not yet convinced you understand the term. As far as I understand, it is irrelevant to the discussion of civilian nuclear power, even including meltdowns such as happened at Fukushima.

  • Starviking

    I have seen debunked studies from Mangano and Sherman, is this what you are referring to?

    Also, how do you account for the lack of devastating health effects in Japan? We had the air plumes and water contamination almost immediately.

  • Starviking

    Hi Norman,

    are you willing to answer Sam’s question? Don’t worry about seeming ignorant – plenty of us were before the disaster, and there is so much rubbish out there on the web to sort through.

  • Starviking

    I really wish you would give us some scientific sources for that information. Radioisotope releases are not given in units of ‘nuclear bombs’. Also, if the plant was emitting fallout on the level of a nuclear explosion then I’d know about it. I live in an adjoining prefecture to Fukushima, and know many people with relatives there. Nothing on an increase in airborne radioisotopes either there, nor in my prefecture, nor Tohoku either.

    “Nuclear Winter” is a theory, with strong evidence, about how a full nuclear exchange could loft enough dust into the upper atmosphere to cause a reduction in solar energy reaching the surface of the Earth, causing a years-long winter. It is not associated with the use of nuclear power.

    CO2 absorbs infra-red radiation from the surface of the Earth, effectively trapping it for a longer time than normal. This warms up the Earth, and causes Climate Change. It’s a scientific fact.

  • Starviking

    So why do you say above that Yucca has gone seismically active?

  • Starviking

    I meant scientific references.

    I can find no solid references for a gamma ray detector network, but it would not work in the case you describe, as gamma-rays are absorbed by a few meters of concrete. You are not going to be getting anything detectable, gamma-ray-wise, from 10s of metres under the ground, let alone miles.

    Thorium is a nuclear poison? News to me again. Thorium has been used as a fuel in nuclear reactors – odd that it would be a nuclear poison too.

  • Starviking

    That’s not what he says:

    “Ocean simulations showed that the plume of radioactive cesium-137
    released by the Fukushima disaster in 2011 could begin flowing into U.S.
    coastal waters starting in early 2014 and peak in 2016. Luckily, two
    ocean currents off the eastern coast of Japan — the Kuroshio Current and
    the Kuroshio Extension — has diluted the radioactive material so much
    that its concentration fell well below the World Health Organization’s
    safety levels within four months of the Fukushima incident. But it could
    have been a different story if nuclear disaster struck on the other
    side of Japan.

    “The environmental impact could have been worse if
    the contaminated water would have been released in another oceanic
    environment in which the circulation was less energetic and turbulent,”
    said Vincent Rossi, an oceanographer and postdoctoral research fellow at
    the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Physics and Complex Systems in
    Spain.”"

  • Starviking

    Honestly, I advise cracking open some science books. I, and a lot of Japan resident did that after March 11th 2011, and found most, if not all of the fear-mongering was just hype.

  • Starviking

    The ‘coriums’ are not critical masses – they just have melted because of the residual heat left in them after the shutdown of the chain reactions.

    Good luck in your finals! What subject?