Thursday, August 22, 2013

Wikileaks: Tokyo warned in 2008 about earthquake threat to nuclear plants; "pattern of secrecy and denial"

Thanks to Bradley Manning and Wikileaks, we know that Tokyo was warned in 2008  about the earthquake threat to Japan's inadequately designed, aging nuclear plants:
Japan earthquake: Japan warned over nuclear plants, WikiLeaks cables show (The Daily Telegraph, March 15, 2011):

Japan was warned more than two years ago by the international nuclear watchdog that its nuclear power plants were not capable of withstanding powerful earthquakes, leaked diplomatic cables reveal.

An official from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in December 2008 that safety rules were out of date and strong earthquakes would pose a "serious problem" for nuclear power stations...

Warnings about the safety of nuclear power plants in Japan, one of the most seismologically active countries in the world, were raised during a meeting of the G8's Nuclear Safety and Security Group in Tokyo in 2008.

A US embassy cable obtained by the WikiLeaks website and seen by The Daily Telegraph quoted an unnamed expert who expressed concern that guidance on how to protect nuclear power stations from earthquakes had only been updated three times in the past 35 years.

The document states: "He [the IAEA official] explained that safety guides for seismic safety have only been revised three times in the last 35 years and that the IAEA is now re-examining them.

"Also, the presenter noted recent earthquakes in some cases have exceeded the design basis for some nuclear plants, and that this is a serious problem that is now driving seismic safety work."

The cables also disclose how the Japanese government opposed a court order to shut down another nuclear power plant in western Japan because of concerns it could not withstand powerful earthquakes.

The court ruled that there was a possibility local people might be exposed to radiation if there was an accident at the plant, which was built to out of date specifications and only to withstand a "6.5 magnitude" earthquake. Last Friday's earthquake, 81 miles off the shore of Japan, was a magnitude 9.0 tremor.

However, a cable from March 2006 reported that the court's concerns were not shared by the country's nuclear safety agency.

It says: "Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency believes the reactor is safe and that all safety analyses were appropriately conducted."

The Government successfully overturned the ruling in 2009.
A Wikileaks diplomatic cable published at The Guardian on March 14, 2011 further revealed:
...politician Taro Kono, a high-profile member of Japan's lower house, tells US diplomats that the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry – the Japanese government department responsible for nuclear energy – has been "covering up nuclear accidents and obscuring the true costs and problems associated with the nuclear industry".

In 2008, Kono told them: "The ministries were trapped in their policies, as officials inherited policies from people more senior to them, which they could then not challenge." He mentioned the dangers of natural disasters in the context of nuclear waste disposal, citing Japan's "extensive seismic activity, and abundant groundwater, and [he] questioned if there really was a safe place to store nuclear waste in the 'land of volcanoes'."

"What we are seeing follows a clear pattern of secrecy and denial," said Paul Dorfman, co-secretary to the Committee Examining Radiation Risks from Internal Emitters, a UK government advisory committee disbanded in 2004.

"The Japanese government has always tended to underplay accidents. At the moment the Japanese claims of safety are not to be believed by anyone..."

The Japanese authorities and nuclear companies have been implicated in a series of cover-ups. In 1995, reports of a sodium leak and fire at Japan's Monju fast breeder reactor were suppressed and employees were gagged. In 2002, the chairman and four executives of Tepco, the company which owns the stricken Fukushima plant, resigned after reports that safety records were falsified.

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