Brief Notes from a special seminar organised by NFLA, NCG and Green Cross Switzerland and held on January 28th, 2016 in Committee Room 10, Palace of Westminster
1 Margaret Ritchie MP, seminar chair
Margaret Ritchie explained that this event was a special seminar for Parliamentarians, to help them understand the impacts of two pivotal nuclear disasters.
2016 is important for being the 5th Anniversary of the Fukushima disaster and the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.
Margaret Ritchie noted that she is an MP representing a coastal constituency from Northern Ireland which is some short distance across the Irish Sea from the Sellafield site. As a former Down councillors she was a member of the UK & Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities Steering Committee. She is delighted it is still actively pursuing all aspects of nuclear policy and calling for greater accountability and safety in the nuclear sector.
The seminar is being co-organised with the Nuclear Consulting Group, a collective of independent academics involved in research around nuclear policy; and Green Cross Switzerland, who are a constituent group of Green Cross International. This group was founded by Mikhail Gorbachev after his experience with the Chernobyl disaster and the need to deal with environmental emergencies and the effects of climate change. The group is providing support for affected communities around the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters.
The seminar includes 4 high quality speakers. There has never been such a better opportunity for a good debate in Parliament about these issues, and as new nuclear power is being considered in the UK, it is now very much needed, as we contemplate building nuclear power stations at 7 sites.
2 Mr Naoto Kan, former Prime Minister of Japan
Mr Kan has been a member of the Japanese Parliament since 1980. He has been a Minister of Health and Welfare, a Minister of Science and Technology and a Minister of Economic and Finance in Japan. He was Deputy Prime Minister of Japan in 2009.10 and was appointed as Prime Minister of Japan from June 2010 to September 2011.
As Prime Minister he dealt with the terrible effects of the huge earthquake and tsunami that affected much of North East Japan on the 11th March 2011, and culminated in a major nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Mr Kan talked about some of the lessons of the disaster and the need for better disaster preparation.
Today is just a few weeks away from the 5th anniversary of the Fukushima disaster.
Unit 4 reactor was badly damaged with Units 1 2 3 facing a nuclear meltdown. Hundreds of thousands of tons of cooling water have had to be used since the disaster to prevent an event greater disaster. There has been heavy leakage of contaminated water to the ocean, even though this has often been denied by TEPCO. Over 100,000 people still remain as evacuees unable to go back to their homes.
At time of the earthquake, Mr Kan noted that he was in a Parliamentary committee, with big chandeliers, like the ones here in Westminster. The earthquake felt like forever, but was only for around 3 mins. Mr Kan went direct to the PM’s office and then the Government’s crisis management centre. Preparation was then quickly made to deal with the upcoming tsunami. Initial information was positive and Mr Kan was so relieved. Shortly after he was told that Unit 1 at Fukushima Daiichi had lost all power, followed shortly after with the new that its whole cooling function had stopped. As a trained scientist, Mr Kan was aware of decay heat and potential meltdown. Up till 11 pm, was being told by TEPCO that there remained water in the reactor. This turned out to be false, as the water was lost within 3 hours. By 6am the meltdown had taken place and by the 12th March the reactor pressure vessel pressure had gone into full meltdown. Some nuclear fuel had escaped outside reactor vessel in what is known as the ‘China syndrome’.
Had it completely melted and escaped, then it was possible that all within a 250 km range (50m) would have had to flee. A Working scenario the government had to consider was that as much as half of Japan’s entire land was at risk. It came very close to that. The EU is currently struggling with thousands upon thousands of refugees, but in this incident a scenario of 50 million people as refugees was possible. The entire Japanese state was put at risk.
Reactor Unit 3 also saw a partial meltdown, and there were in addition hydrogen explosions at Reactors 3 & 4. Spent fuel needed to managed and dealt with urgently. The emergency services and Tepco employees on site were heroes in preventing a much more destructive incident. There was an element of luck that Japan avoided the worst. Water remained in parts of the site to allow some cooling. These facilities came close to being destroyed. What radiation that took place was only from a small hole, and fortunately a large amount of it was contained. It was clear to Mr Kan that no one had ever experienced or anticipated such an event.
Mr Kan visited Chernobyl last year to see what took place there. Unlike Chernobyl, Fukushima did not experience the huge explosion and ongoing large radiation release. Yet, Fukushima 1, 2 & 3 reactors still failed. (Fortunately Reactor 4 was empty, in maintenance, but still contained spent fuel). And there was also a nearby site with a further 5 reactors. So in total there were 11 nuclear reactors with spent fuel pools and at risk. The ramifications for local communities and Japan were huge.
Until the Fukushima disaster, Mr Kan had considered Japanese technology as very good. But the reality was worse than Chernobyl. Japan was simply not prepared for what took place. As a result, Mr Kan is now against nuclear power in a 180 degrees transformation in attitude. There has been real scope in the disaster for the ruin of the country. So Mr Kan now believes it is essential that we must avoid the risks of annihilation – we can survive without nuclear power.
Since the disaster there have now been stringent inspections of Japanese nuclear power plants. As a result all 54 reactors were all stopped. Just 2 have restarted now, largely due to support give by the new government. In his term of office Mr Kan decided to initiate a major expansion of solar energy and 8.8 GW has been generated, equivalent to 20 nuclear power plants, with a target of 22 GW.
There has been a 10% loss of electricity with the closure of nuclear plant. Japan can though reach a 30% renewable target quickly. It is possible to phase out all nuclear energy.
Under the new Japanese Prime Minister Abe there is an attempt to restart nuclear power plants and to continue to export nuclear technology around the world, with an aim that nuclear will provide 20% of Japan’s electricity, compared to its previous 30% role. Abe is also supporting Hitachi and Toshiba developing new nuclear reactors outside Japan, such as in the UK at Wylfa and Sellafield Moorside.
It is up to each country to decide its energy mix. But nuclear energy manufacturers must understand the causes of Fukushima and avoid it ever be repeated.
The Fukushima experience has made up Mr Kan’s mind that he is now against nuclear power. He is interested in how Germany is moving towards zero generation from nuclear power and fossil fuels. It is growing evidence that it is possible to go nuclear free. The financial cost of nuclear power is still increasing. And the cost of spent fuel safe disposal is also quite unknown and likely to be very high.
3 Dr Paul Dorfman, NCG Co-ordinator
The whole nuclear debate is changing fast. The existing deal for developing Hinkley Point deal is unravelling and its finances are being pulled apart.
Independent commentators say the original deal between EDF and the UK Government for Hinkley Point was too generous. The 35 years inflation proof deal could be worth as much as £2billion per annum to EDF. Yet, despite this the construction deal may still not be affordable for EDF, even with an effective Treasury guarantee. Austria, Luxembourg and a number of German renewable energy companies have tabled a court case over the European Commission’s approval of the state aid deal. It may be found to be illegal. It is likely to take 2 years for the courts to decide.
EDF’s EPR reactor design has some major deficiencies. There are serious faults found in a reactor being built at Flamanville in Normandy. 2 similar reactors are also being built in China. Chinese nuclear utilities are very concerned with these issues.
Meanwhile, EDF’s finances are at an all time low. Areva, who would construct the Hinkley EPR is effectively bankrupt.
The Finnish Government / nuclear regulator is currently suing Areva over major delays to an EPR being developed in Olkiluoto. There are also delays with Taishan 1 & 2 in China. It is possible that the entire reactor vessel at Flamanville may need to be completely replaced due to the flaws that have been found. This would require a huge amount of new finance if it is required. The EPR is becoming almost undeliverable.
There are also issued over nuclear liability insurance. Worst case claimed to be 0.03% per day max. High court says no possibility of significant accident. Liability is capped. At present there is an accident insurance value of up to £134m per nuclear accident. If the recent EU deal in this area is signed by Britain then this would rise to £1.2Bn. But Fukushima showed the actual cost of a disaster will be much, much more. So UK new nuclear could become uninsurable.
Tier 1 national security threats to country all involve nuclear in one guise or another. Nuclear power supplies only electricity. Like for like. This is just 4% of total energy generation, and only 20% of UK electricity.
Climate change remains a real concern for the future with nuclear power. All UK nuclear sites are coastal plants and at risk from sea water rise. In France and China many are on inland rivers, where water may dry up in hot temperatures.
The German KIKK study has claimed as much as a 60% increase in leukaemia rates around nuclear power plants. This figure has been accepted and not seriously challenged.
It should be noted that in the US solar energy now employs more than oil and gas.
Yet, due to government policy, UK renewables are about to fall off a cliff due to steep subsidy cuts
Globally the next industrial revolution will be renewables. Our previous wars have often been energy wars. Renewables can change our world, and very much for the better.
4 Professor Tetsunari Iida, Japan Institute for Sustainable Energy Policy
Professor Iida previously worked in the nuclear industry, but left it to study renewable energy. He now directs the Japan Institute for Sustainable Energy.
The propaganda of the nuclear industry in the years since Fukushima has been at times dishonest. The Fukushima disaster was literally a life or death issue for Japan, but now a small number of nuclear power stations are now reopening.
There is a vast amount of polluted material at Fukushima. Though spent fuel at Reactor 4 has been removed and is safe, little has happened with Reactors 1, 2 and 3. There continue to me as much as 1000 lorry movements per day! No long-term plan for the next 30 years is in place.
The attempt to deal with the huge water problem on the site with the ‘ice wall’ has to date failed. It has not frozen adequately. The cost of this project could be as much as 4000 billion yen.
Water tanks gadgets are being replaced by welds. There remains a major problem in dealing with water seeping out of storage tanks.
There are still over 100k evacuees. The Japanese Government is putting pressure on people to return to homes where radiation contamination has been reduced to 20 microsievert or below. What though is a ‘safe’ level of exposure?
Who will pay for all the post-disaster activity. TEPCO is a publicly listed company. The claims that the incident is fully under control by Prime Minister Abe is much more of the media than the events around the site.
Food contamination remains of great concern to local people. Citizens juries against TEPCO are growing.
Since Fukushima Japan has brought in a lot of successful energy saving measures.
Japan can live with renewables and without nuclear. Community energy cooperatives and energy efficiency can be a key part of this.
The 3/11 Feed in tariff scheme has been very successful. Energy democracy is happening in Japan year on year. 200k people continue to demonstrate against Fukushima. Pro-nuclear policies can be effectively opposed. (see Powerpoint presentation for more detail).
5 Mrs Yoshido Aoki, Fukushima evacuees community representative
Mrs Aoki is involved with groups that are assisting refugees from the Fukushima disaster. She has gained many personal experiences, and of life post evacuation.
Life for evacuees is difficult and unfamiliar. Some will never be able to move back home, and this has not been personal choice. Many evacuees have few real choices.
Almost 5 years has transpired and most evacuees have not been able to return home. Many fled by car, and many may not be able to return.
Throughout the evacuation the police wore masks over their nose and mouth, and again in evacuation centres, which distressed many older people. Communities have been scattered and not remained cohesive. Large numbers of simple, temporary houses have been built.
In many cases land, home and job has all gone. Many elderly people have not been able to stay with their extended family. Pets have either had to be killed or left behind.
Colours designate re-entry to contaminated areas: pink areas are completely out of bounds, whilst yellow areas people can entre between 9am and 3pm. Areas evacuated have had high barricades set up.
Evacuees can return to Green ‘safe’ areas. Some people will be formally allowed back in April 2016. There are mixed views on returning home.
Many elderly people want to return, as it is a tradition to die where you come from and not in a strange place, Should they be allowed? Who should decide? How can the family prevent being split up? A safe Fukushima is wanted, a good placed to live. But can that be a reality?
Some new infrastructure has been built – hospitals, homes, shopping malls. Community facilities and spirit is slowly growing, but it could take 10, 20, 30 or even 100 years before a full rebuild of the community can take place.
Many local people supported the nuclear plant as it is not a particularly rich part of Japan. They are now living with consequences of the disaster. Nuclear power previously brought prosperity, but now the opposite makes it a difficult area to regenerate.
It could happen in the UK at existing or new nuclear sites. Please learn from our mistakes. Avoid having to apologise to your children and grandchildren.