Fukushima reactor makers not liable: Japan court — Channel NewsAsia

” TOKYO: A Japanese court on Wednesday (Jul 13) turned down a class action lawsuit seeking damages from nuclear plant makers Toshiba, Hitachi and GE over the Fukushima meltdown disaster, the plaintiffs, one of the companies and a report said.

About 3,800 claimants in the suit, hailing from Japan and 32 other countries including the United States, Germany and South Korea, had sought largely symbolic compensation from the nuclear power plant manufacturers.

Under Japanese liability law, nuclear plant providers are usually exempt from damage claims in the event of an accident, leaving operators to face legal action.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers, however, had argued that that violated constitutional protections on the pursuit of happy, wholesome and cultured livelihoods.

But the Tokyo District Court ruled that the law “is not unconstitutional”, according to lawyers for the plaintiffs.

“We knew it was difficult to win under the current legal system in Japan, but it’s clearly wrong that nuclear (plant) manufacturers don’t have to bear any responsibility for an accident,” Masao Imaizumi, 73, one of plaintiffs, told AFP.

“If they are spared responsibility, it could lead to disregard for product quality,” he said, adding that the plaintiffs will appeal.

Toshiba welcomed the decision. “The company recognises the verdict as an appropriate ruling handed out by the court,” it said in a statement.

Hitachi and GE’s Japan office could not be reached for comment. Japan’s Jiji Press also reported that the suit was rejected.

The suit – which sought just ¥100 (96 US cents) per claimant – was the first to be brought against nuclear power-plant suppliers over the accident, Akihiro Shima, lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, said previously.

The suit was first filed in January 2014 with just over 1,000 claimants, but more joined which saw the number nearly quadruple.

The plaintiffs had alleged that the companies failed to make necessary safety updates to the Fukushima reactors, swamped on Mar 11, 2011 by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake-sparked tsunami that lead to the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.

Embattled plant operator Tokyo Electric Power is already facing massive lawsuits and compensation costs. ”

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Five years after Fukushima: How to avoid the next nuclear disaster: Foreign Affairs

” Five years ago next month, one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded hit Japan, destroying its long-standing myth of zero-risk nuclear energy. The meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant revealed significant shortcomings in Japan’s safety culture, which the country has since learned from and has been trying to address. Countries charging ahead with nuclear power should heed these lessons to avoid another Fukushima.

In the years since the accident, the Fukushima plant’s damaged reactors have been stabilized through a makeshift water-cooling system, and releases of radioactivity have been greatly reduced. Meanwhile, after decontamination efforts, some of the over 100,000 evacuees have been allowed to return home.

However, despite some notable successes in cleaning up the site, tens of thousands of people are still displaced, work conditions at the plant remain poor, storing the accumulating radioactive water is an ongoing concern, and Japan remains decades away from fully decommissioning the mangled reactors. The total economic damage has been estimated at over $100 billion, and none of the six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi will ever operate again.

There have been no deaths from the effects of the radiation (according to the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, any increase in cancer rates is expected to be too small to detect). On the other hand, forced evacuation is estimated to have played a role in over 1,000 premature deaths, and according to a World Health Organization health risk assessment, as with Chernobyl, the psychological toll of the disaster is a major concern and potentially outweighs other health consequences.

The disaster prompted many other countries to take stock of their own nuclear programs. The take-home lesson for some, including a majority of the Japanese public, was to move away from nuclear power. For example, Germany vowed to phase out all nuclear power by 2022, Italy voted overwhelmingly not to restart its nuclear program, and Switzerland banned the construction of new reactors.

Other nations were hardly slowed in their expansion of nuclear energy. China, India, and Russia lead the way with, all together, more than 40 reactors under construction and over twice as many planned. In their haste, it seems that many of these countries have not absorbed the key lesson from Fukushima: the importance of a rigorous and all-encompassing safety regime.

Before the Disaster

According to a National Academy of Sciences study, prior to the Fukushima accident, Japan’s nuclear regulatory agencies did not seem to have sufficient expertise, authority, resources, or independence to adequately protect public safety. In hindsight, the problem appears to be a classic case of regulatory capture, reinforced by the common practices of amakudari (descent from heaven), referring to retired powerful public officials being hired into private sector jobs, and amaagari (ascent to heaven), referring to private sector experts moving into government-related positions.

Moreover, the regulatory body was housed in the very ministry charged with promoting nuclear energy, which created a potential conflict of interest. (To avoid similar issues, in 1975, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission was split to separate the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from promotional functions.)

An independent regulator is not sufficient, though: a strong culture of safety must also be cultivated throughout the nuclear network—from operators and construction workers up to plant owners—as well as throughout the supply chain. Pride must come not just from the megawatts produced; each entity should prioritize public safety when building or operating nuclear plants and maintain alertness through frequent drills for workers at all levels.

The 2011 meltdown turned a spotlight on the flaws in the safety regime of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the Fukushima Daiichi operator. It had falsified reports and fudged safety-related inspections long before Fukushima; it had also failed to update its seismic and tsunami safety standards. To be sure, it is difficult to prepare for an event that seems nearly impossible, such as an earthquake and tsunami of the magnitude that hit Japan, but a superior safety culture can make a difference—some have argued that that was why the reactors at the Onagawa power station, which were slammed as hard as Fukushima Daiichi, remained intact and were safely shut down.

Praiseworthy Progress

Since the accident, Japan has taken admirable, although incomplete, steps to set up an independent regulator and to improve its safety culture, including by bringing in respected international advisers. Last year, it began gradually to reactivate some of the country’s functioning reactors. Before Fukushima, the more than 50 reactors had provided Japan with some 30 percent of its electrical power, but all were taken offline in the months after the accident.

Of course, Japan is not alone in facing these types of safety-related problems. After dissolving the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, the United States, the world’s leading producer of nuclear energy, has faced criticism for the amount of influence the industry wields over its rule-making process. South Korea’s nuclear industry, too, has had problems, including a history of falsifying safety documents.

But most worrying are the developing countries entering the huddle. China leads the way, with plans to triple its nuclear-generating capacity by 2020, but its regulator is neither structurally independent nor well staffed. Because an accident has such massive potential for widespread damage, tight quality control is essential. China’s track record in this regard is not promising. For example, in 1987, the crew constructing a nuclear plant near Hong Kong misread blueprints and initially failed to incorporate a large portion of the requisite protective steel, raising questions about competence and oversight.

Some new powers are more prudent, including the United Arab Emirates, which began creating a solid regulatory framework, with a team of international experts to regularly assess the program’s progress, long before its first reactor comes online in 2017.

Others are more cavalier, such as Vietnam, another one-party state with nuclear ambitions and no precedent for any type of independent regulatory entity. Iran, a seismically active country, also has attracted concern over the safety of its current and future reactors and the lack of independence of its regulator, despite the recent nuclear deal with the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus Germany). India is another fast-growing nuclear power, with over 25 reactors either under construction or planned. But it is stuck on the question of regulatory independence since a proposed law on regulation, tabled in reaction to the Fukushima disaster, was not passed by the legislature.

Calls for International Atomic Energy Agency reforms that will require more rigorous international safety checks are welcome, but it must not stop there. Generating nuclear energy should be recognized as a serious responsibility, given the scale of damage and suffering when things go wrong—as the world was reminded five years ago. ”

by David Roberts and Norman Neureiter

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Chernobyl and the fire next time — Counterpunch

Although this article by John LaForge primarily details reports of radiation fallout from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, it interestingly notes that “the US government halted its emergency water and air radiation monitoring on the West Coast two months after the start of Fukushima’s three explosions and meltdowns.” This article is a good reminder that nuclear meltdowns cannot be contained and that radioactive fallout is redistributed by forest fires and precipitation for centuries after an accident occurs.

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Fukushima’s fourth anniversary brings hope amidst radioactive ruins as renewable energy revolution soars — EcoWatch

” The catastrophe that began at Fukushima four years ago today is worse than ever.

But the good news can ultimately transcend the bad—if we make it so.

An angry grassroots movement has kept shut all 54 reactors that once operated in Japan. It’s the largest on-going nuke closure in history. Big industrial windmills installed off the Fukushima coast are now thriving.

Five U.S. reactors have shut since March 11, 2011. The operable fleet is under 100 for the first time in decades.

Ohio’s Davis-Besse, New York’s Ginna, five reactors in Illinois and other decrepit American nukes could shut soon without huge ratepayer bailouts.

Diablo Canyon was retrofitted—probably illegally—with $842 million in replacement parts untested for seismic impact. Already under fire for illegal license manipulations and an avoidable gas explosion that killed eight in San Bruno in 2010, Pacific Gas & Electric has plunged into a legal, economic and political abyss that could soon doom California’s last reactors.

Meanwhile, Germany is amping up its renewable energy generation with a goal of 80 percent or more by 2050.

France—once nuke power’s poster child—has turned away from new reactor construction and is moving strongly toward renewables.

Worldwide the Solartopian revolution is ahead of schedule and under budget. Predictions about its technological and economic potential are being everywhere exceeded.

More than twice as many Americans now work in solar as in coal mines. As the head of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund recently put it: “We are quite convinced that if John D Rockefeller were alive today, as an astute businessman looking out to the future, he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy.”

Even America’s Tea Party has developed a green wing promoting renewables.

Vital focus now centers on battery breakthroughs needed to escalate rooftop solar, electric cars and other post-nuke game-changers.

But there’s plenty of bad news. The State Secrets Act of Japan’s authoritarian Abe regime renders unreliable all “official” information from Fukushima. Grassroots nuclear campaigners are under serious attack.

At least 300 tons of radioactive water still pour daily into the Pacific Ocean. The utility wants to dump even more untreated outflow into currents that are already testing radioactive along the California coast. Details of fuel rod bring-downs and site clean-ups remain unknown.

Thyroid damage rates are soaring among downwind children. Abe is forcing evacuees back into areas that are seriously contaminated. Fukushima’s owner (Tepco) is the #1 money funnel to his Liberal Democratic Party, which flips untold billions back to the utility.

More than 128,000 petitioners asking that the world community take charge at Fukushima have been ignored by the United Nations since November, 2013.

Throughout the world decaying reactors threaten our survival. Ohio’s Davis-Besse containment is literally crumbling. Diablo Canyon is surrounded by 15 known fault lines, one just 700 yards from the cores. New reactor sites in Finland, France and Georgia show slipshod construction, substandard parts and corrupted supervision that would make them instant threats should they go on line.

Citizen activism challenges all that. Today Solartopian activists will picket Japanese consulates worldwide.

An evolving electricity boycott to “unplug nuclear” and a growing grassroots demand for green energy herald a new era of people power.

Four years after the endless Fukushima disaster began, that renewable revolution defines our survival.

It’s a fight we can’t afford to lose. It’s a victory we must soon embrace … with the utmost relief and joy. ”

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Nobel-winner Oe slams Abe, urges nation to follow Germany and quit nuclear power — The Japan Times

” Nobel-winning author Kenzaburo Oe said Tuesday that the nation’s push to restart some nuclear reactors following the Fukushima disaster could lead to another crisis, and urged Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to follow Germany’s example and phase out atomic energy.

Oe’s remarks to reporters came a day after visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she had decided to end her country’s use of nuclear energy by 2022 because the Fukushima crisis convinced her of its risks.

Abe, at a joint news conference on Monday with Merkel, reiterated that Japan still needs nuclear power as a stable energy source and said it now has top-level safety standards based on lessons learned from the disaster.

Oe said he saw a stark contrast between the two leaders. “It was very symbolic,” he said. “Japanese politicians are not trying to change the situation but only keeping the status quo even after this massive nuclear accident, and even if we all know that yet another accident would simply wipe out Japan’s future.”

Three reactor cores at the Fukushima plant melted following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, spreading radiation outside the compound and forcing more than 100,000 people to relocate. Massive amounts of contaminated water at the plant are hampering the decommissioning effort, which is expected to take decades. New leaks of highly radioactive water from the plant’s drainage systems, including one that its operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. did not reveal for months, have renewed public distrust.

Oe, 80, said his life’s final work is to strive for a nuclear-free world.

“We must not leave the problem of nuclear plants for the younger generation,” he said.

The winner of the Nobel literature prize in 1994, Oe has campaigned for peace and anti-nuclear causes, particularly since the Fukushima disaster, and has often appeared in rallies. ”

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Nuclear power’s dark future — The Japan Times

” Nuclear power constitutes the world’s most subsidy-fattened energy industry, yet it faces an increasingly uncertain future. The global nuclear power industry has enjoyed growing state subsidies over the years, even as it generates the most dangerous wastes whose safe disposal saddles future generations.

Despite the fat subsidies, new developments are highlighting the nuclear power industry’s growing travails. For example, France — the “poster child” of atomic power — is rethinking its love affair with nuclear energy. Its parliament voted last month to cut the country’s nuclear-generating capacity by a third by 2025 and focus instead on renewable sources by emulating neighboring countries like Germany and Spain.

As nuclear power becomes increasingly uneconomical at home because of skyrocketing costs, the U.S. and France are aggressively pushing exports, not just to India and China, but also to “nuclear newcomers,” such as the cash-laden oil sheikhdoms in the Persian Gulf. Such exports raise new challenges related to freshwater resources, nuclear safety and nuclear-weapons proliferation.

Still, the bulk of the reactors under construction or planned worldwide are in just four countries — China, Russia, South Korea and India.

Six decades after Lewis Strauss, the chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, claimed that nuclear energy would become “too cheap to meter,” nuclear power confronts an increasingly uncertain future, largely because of unfavorable economics. The just-released International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2014 report states: “Uncertainties continue to cloud the future for nuclear — government policy, public confidence, financing in liberalized markets, competitiveness versus other sources of generation, and the looming retirement of a large fleet of older plants.”

The stock of the state-owned French nuclear technology giant Areva recently tumbled after it cited major delays in its reactor projects and a “lackluster” global atomic-energy market to warn of an uncertain outlook for its business.

For example, the Areva-designed plant in Finland, on Olkiluoto Island, is running at least nine years behind schedule, with its cost expected to rise from €3.2 billion to almost €8.5 billion. Even in Areva’s home market, the Flamanville 3 reactor project in northern France is facing serious delays and cost overruns.

In Japan, the last of its 48 commercial reactors went offline in September 2013. Repeated polls have shown that the Japanese public remains opposed to nuclear restarts by a 2 to 1 margin, despite toughened safety regulations after the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Yet the southern city of Satsuma Sendai in Kagoshima Prefecture recently gave its consent to restarting, as soon as early next year, two reactors operated by Kyushu Electric Power Company.

Nuclear power has the energy sector’s highest capital and water intensity and longest plant-construction time frame, making it hardly attractive for private investors. The plant-construction time frame, with licensing approval, still averages about a decade, as underscored by the new reactors commissioned in the past decade. In fact, the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2014 acknowledges that 49 of the 66 reactors currently under construction are plagued with delays and cost overruns. Commercial reactors have been in operation for more than half a century, yet the industry still cannot stand on its own feet without major state support. Instead of the cost of nuclear power declining with the technology’s maturation — as is the case with other sources of energy — the costs have escalated multiple times. Just in the past decade, average costs jumped from $1,000 per installed kilowatt to almost $8,000/kW.

In this light, nuclear power has inexorably been on a downward trajectory. The nuclear share of the world’s total electricity production reached its peak of 17 percent in the late 1980s. Since then, it has been falling, and is currently estimated at about 13 percent, even as new uranium discoveries have swelled global reserves. With proven reserves having grown by 12.5 percent since just 2008, there is enough uranium to meet current demand for more than 100 years. Yet the worldwide aggregate installed capacity of just three renewables — wind power, solar power and biomass — has surpassed installed nuclear-generating capacity. In India and China, wind power output alone exceeds nuclear-generated electricity.

Before the Fukushima disaster, the global nuclear power industry — a powerful cartel of less than a dozen major state-owned or state-guided firms — had been trumpeting a global “nuclear renaissance.” This spiel was largely anchored in hope.

However, the triple meltdown at Fukushima not only reopened old safety concerns but also has set in motion the renaissance of nuclear power in reverse. The dual imperative for costly upgrades post-Fukushima and for making the industry competitive, including by cutting back on the munificent government subsidies it enjoys, underscores nuclear power’s dimming future. New nuclear plants in most countries are located in coastal regions so that these water-guzzling facilities can largely draw on seawater for their operations and not bring freshwater resources under strain.

But coastal areas are often not only heavily populated but also constitute prime real estate. Moreover, the projected greater frequency of natural disasters like storms, hurricanes, and tsunamis due to climate change, along with the rise of ocean levels, makes seaside reactors particularly vulnerable.

The risks that seaside reactors face from global-warming-induced natural disasters became evident more than six years before Fukushima, when the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami inundated the Madras Atomic Power Station. But the reactor core could be kept in a safe shutdown mode because the electrical systems had been installed on higher ground than the plant level.

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew caused significant damage at the Turkey Point nuclear power plant in Florida, but fortunately not to any critical system. And in a 2012 incident, an alert was declared at the New Jersey Oyster Creek nuclear power plant — the oldest operating commercial reactor in the U.S. — after water rose in its water intake structure during Hurricane Sandy, potentially affecting the pumps that circulate cooling water through the plant.

All of Britain’s nuclear power plants are located along the coast, and a government assessment has identified as many as 12 of the country’s 19 civil nuclear sites as being at risk due to rising sea levels. Several nuclear plants in Britain, as in a number of other countries, are just a few meters above sea level.

Yet even as Germany steps out of the nuclear power business, Britain is pressing ahead with a costly new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, underscoring the divisions among European countries over nuclear power. Britain indeed intends to build several more plants to replace its aging nuclear stations. The Hinkley Point project, however, is running years behind schedule, with the costs mounting.

Globally, nuclear power is set to face increasing challenges due to its inability to compete with other energy sources in pricing. Another factor is how to manage the rising volumes of spent nuclear fuel in the absence of permanent disposal facilities. More fundamentally, without a breakthrough in fusion energy or greater commercial advances in the area that the U.S. has strived to block — breeder (and thorium) reactors — nuclear power is in no position to lead the world out of the fossil-fuel age. ”

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