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Safety scandal guts Japanese nuclear industry

Safety scandal guts Japanese nuclear industry

Tokyo/Auckland, August 30, 2002: Japan’s Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has joined British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) as nuclear companies which cannot be trusted, due to their lies and safety cover-ups.

Last night Japan's largest nuclear utility, TEPCO, announced that there had been a failure to conduct vital safety inspections at their nuclear reactors dating back to the 1980s and through the 1990s and that results of tests had been deliberately falsified.

The country's nuclear program, as well as any future business prospects for the two European plutonium companies - British Nuclear Fuels and Cogema (Areva group), is now in serious doubt.

This news has serious implications for Tokyo Electric’s plans to introduce controversial plutonium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel into its reactors. TEPCO President Nobuya Minami announced the scandal at an emergency press conference held yesterday in Tokyo.

TEPCO was planning to load MOX into one of its reactors later in September, defying opposition from local citizens who feared it was not safe. It has emerged in the last week that the reactor into which TEPCO was planning to load MOX, has been found to have serious corrosion in a vital component of the reactor.

"Japan's nuclear industry and Government has been exposed once again as ignoring fundamental safety problems at their nuclear reactors - risking catastrophic accident and the lives of tens of millions. It is confirmation once again that the nuclear industry is inherently dishonest and cannot be trusted. The ramifications of this latest news will be felt around the world," said Kazue Suzuki of Greenpeace Japan.

The announcement by TEPCO was made solely due to the efforts of a former worker from the company that did the inspections, General Electric International Inc. The 'whistleblower' informed the Japanese Ministry for Trade, Industry and Economy (METI) in July 2000. METI has claimed in a statement that it has been investigating the extent of the problem since then. However, this is confirmation that the Japanese Government withheld vital nuclear safety information for at least two years, while claiming their reactors were safe.

One of the problems that has come to light is corrosion of the reactor core shroud (1), but TEPCO did not inform the Japanese Government for at least a year. The safety cover-up and falsification goes beyond the core shroud and other vital components in TEPCO’s reactors.

Currently BNFL is shipping a cargo of rejected plutonium MOX fuel from Japan to the UK, after they lied to their largest Japanese client over vital safety quality control data. The only reason BNFL is making the shipment, and why the UK Government agreed to a compensation package of over 100 million pounds sterling to Japan, was on the basis of Japan signing contracts for MOX with BNFL. The immediate postponement of TEPCO’s plutonium program could be a blow to the business prospects of British Nuclear Fuels and Cogema, as both were desperate to secure contracts with Japan.

“Today’s revelations show that key nuclear industry players involved in the plutonium program lie to the public and cannot be trusted,” said Greenpeace NZ nuclear campaigner Bunny McDiarmid. “TEPCO and BNFL continually crow about the safety of the plutonium program and of shipping this material through the Pacific. We hope that this scandal will put a further nail in the coffin of the trans-shipment of plutonium around the globe.”

The shipment of reject plutonium MOX has been vehemently opposed by 80 governments so far, led by Pacific Island countries including New Zealand. These governments have been reassured by the Japanese nuclear industry and British Nuclear Fuels Ltd that the shipment is safe and poses no risk. The latest scandal demonstrates that the nuclear industry is not to be trusted and these countries are justified in rejecting such assurances.

BNFL are currently returning their plutonium MOX shipments because they falsified the safety data records. The shipments are expected in the UK mid-September. A large flotilla will meet them in the Irish Sea.

Contact: Bunny McDiarmid: Greenpeace NZ Nuclear campaigner in Auckland on 021 838 183. Kazue Suzuki: Greenpeace Japan Nuclear Campaigner in London +31 65 350 4731; Mhairi Dunlop Greenpeace International Nuclear Press Officer: +31 65 350 4731.

Notes to editors: 1. Core Shroud Cracking The core shroud is a large stainless steel cylinder of circumferentially welded plates surrounding the reactor fuel core. The shroud provides for the core geometry of the fuel bundles. It is integral to providing a refloodable compartment in the event of a loss-of-coolant-accident. Extensive cracking of circumferential welds on the core shroud has been discovered in a growing number of U.S. and foreign BWRs. A lateral shift along circumferential cracks at the welds by as little as 1/8 inch can result in the misalignment of the fuel and the inability to insert the control rods coupled with loss of fuel core cooling capability. This scenario can result in a core melt accident.


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