Nuclear Power No Panacea, Critics
Wednesday, July 18, 2007 17:13 GMT
Nuclear Power No Panacea, Critics Say
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 17 (IPS) - The nuclear mishap caused by Monday's
earthquake in Japan has unleashed another wave of environmental
concerns about the use of nuclear technology to meet the world's
"Nuclear power is hardly the safe panacea its supporters claim it
to be," said Norman Dean of Friends of the Earth (FoE), a network
of hundreds of environmental groups around the world.
Raising similar concerns, the environmental group Greenpeace
International's Jan Beranek described the Kashiwazaki nuclear site
incident as another "reminder" that nuclear power "is
Both Dean and Beranek warned of "far more serious nuclear
accidents" and "real risks" posed by earthquakes and
industrial disasters, as well as possible terrorist attacks in the
Monday's earthquake killed nine and wounded more than 1,000 people, in
addition to causing a radioactive leak and fire at the world's largest
nuclear-power producing plant.
Japan's energy officials have acknowledged that the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa
nuclear plant leaked hundreds of gallons of water that was
contaminated with radioactive waste.
However, they described the amount of radioactive waste mixed with
water as "tiny," and said there had been "no
significant change" in the sea water and that there was no effect
on the environment.
Greenpeace accused Japanese officials of "lying" in their
initial assessment of the impact of the fire -- in which they said
there was no danger of radioactive leakage -- adding that the Japanese
and global nuclear industries have been marred by a series of
accidents and cover-ups.
According to environmentalists, there are many similarities between
what happened in Japan and an incident at Germany's Krummel power
plant last month, in which a fire broke out in the transformers
building and damaged the reactor.
"In Germany, the industry first claimed that the fire had no
impact on reactor safety," said Beranek, "[but] in realty
the fire led to serious malfunctions that directly threatened the
safety of the reactor."
Various agencies measured Monday's earthquake between 6.7 and 6.8 on
the Richter scale.
The quake hit on Marine Day, an official holiday in Japan, when most
people were inside their homes. The Japanese media reported that a
series of smaller aftershocks are still going on.
On Monday, authorities said they had evacuated some 2,000 people whose
homes had been completely destroyed by the quake.
Critics point out that this was not the first time the Japanese
nuclear industry has tried to cover up a nuclear accident.
According to Beranek, for example, the Hokuriku utility did not inform
the public or nuclear inspectors about a serious incident that took
place at the Shika nuclear power plant, where a mechanical failure in
1999 led to an uncontrolled chain reaction.
In April 2006, there was a radioactive spill of 40 litres of liquid
containing plutonium in the brand new reprocessing plant in
Rokkasho-Mura, the group said, adding that in August 2004, a pipe was
ruptured in the Mihama plant, which resulted in the death of five
More famously, nuclear meltdowns occurred at Three Mile Island in the
U.S. state of Pennsylvania in 1979 and in 1986 at the Chernobyl
Nuclear Power Plant in the former Soviet Union. A recent Greenpeace
report estimated that 270,000 cancers and 93,000 fatal cancers were
caused by that disaster.
Greenpeace and many other environmental groups have repeatedly called
for the United Nations, United States and other powerful nations to
stop promoting nuclear technology as an alternative to fossil
In April 2006, some leading European politicians raised serious
questions about the U.N.'s role in encouraging countries to acquire
nuclear energy for non-military purposes.
Former environment ministers from European countries, including
Russia, sent a letter to the former U.N. chief Kofi Annan urging him
to reform the mandate of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"Nuclear power is no longer necessary," they said in the
letter. "We have now numerous renewable technologies available to
guarantee the right to safe, clean, and cheap energy."
Greenpeace's Beranek echoed the same message Monday. "Nuclear
power undermines real solutions to climate change, by diverting
resources away from the massive development of clean energy sources
the world urgently needs," he said.
"What's more," he added, "climate change will increase
natural disasters, in turn posing a greater risk to nuclear power
plants, and to our safety."
But this line of reasoning has failed to win over many of the world's
most powerful nations. In July last year, when leaders of the world's
most industrialised countries, known as the Group of Eight, gathered
in St. Petersburg, Russia, they signed a joint statement saying that
nuclear energy is one way to address climate change.
Many environmentalists see nuclear reactors as dangerous because in
addition to natural disasters they are also vulnerable to
unintentional human error.
"Energy conservation and wind and solar power are cleaner
and safer than nuclear power," said Dean. "They are a better
way to fight global warming."