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Whistleblowers show need for nuclear industry accountability (Greg McNevin, Greenpeace International)

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Fukushima second anniversary

Greg McNevin from Greenpeace International summarises the issues raised in a new report, 'Fukushima Fallout'.

The triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant – the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl – not only all but ruined the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), one of the largest energy utilities in the world, it also highlighted the total lack of responsibility suppliers of nuclear reactors have in the event of a nuclear accident.

The plant made up less than 5% of TEPCO's business, but the losses it sustained when three of its six reactors exploded in 2011 soon far exceeded the value of the entire company. Putting aside the immense threats to the health of the people and environment surrounding the plant, having such potential for financial ruin lurking in such a small part of a company's business makes it startling that anyone would be prepared to take such a risk.

Yet in the nuclear business, this risk is not treated like the huge gamble it is in reality. In most cases, nuclear safety laws protect nuclear operators from paying all but a small fraction of the costs of a disaster, and these laws also protect the suppliers of reactors and other equipment from paying any of the costs of a disaster. This increases risk for operators, for people, for the environment, and for national economies.

Take former Babcock-Hitachi engineer Mitsuhiko Tanaka's story for example. Tanaka exposed a critical flaw in the reactor pressure vessel of the now-exploded number 4 reactor at Fukushima Daiichi. This flaw did not contribute to the explosion itself, but it is a shocking example of the cost of failure, and the great lengths the nuclear industry goes to keep the myth of nuclear safety alive.

When a manufacturing flaw can bankrupt a company, but it is covered up only to create a potential Fukushima-scale meltdown, then there is a serious problem with the technology, the company behind it, and with laws that don't hold this company responsible.

The Fukushima Daiichi plant was made up almost entirely of reactors with flaws. Dale Bridenbaugh, a General Electric (GE) engineer who quit the company and became a whistleblower in the US. He encountered the dangerous potential of nuclear power in the mid-1970s. When he alerted his employer to the serious issues with the containment vessels it designed and manufactured, GE was more interested in protecting its bottom line.

The substantial risk of failure caused Bridenbaugh to push for the reactors to be shut down for repair, which could have scuttled GE's nuclear business completely. GE chose to keep them online, eventually deploying one at Fukushima Daiichi.

As Tanaka says: "when the stakes are raised to such a height, a company will not choose what is safe and legal. Even if it is dangerous they will choose to save the company from destruction."

You might think "if the fault makes the chance of a major accident so high, why would companies like Hitachi and GE still take such a huge risk?"

You could say possible bankruptcy in the future is better than certain bankruptcy now, however, the shocking reality is these companies, even when they supplied flawed equipment, are not liable for any damage caused by their faulty nuclear technology.

The huge risks the nuclear industry poses were always clear, so in order to create conditions for the technology to flourish, regulations were written to ensure no supplier would be liable for damages in the case of a nuclear accident, and the utilities running the plants would have a cap for how much they would pay.

Nuclear companies around the world are given a free ride to profit, while taxpayers are put on the hook for the hugely expensive damages when an accident inevitably happens. Worse still, this happens when they are also suffering the tremendous damage a meltdown does to their health, their environment, and their communities.

Given the scope of disaster can far outweigh the worth of any one company, this needs to change. The polluter pays principle needs to be applied in the nuclear industry as it is elsewhere. All nuclear companies need to be made accountable and liable for the disasters they cause. If they are not, then we will have learned no real lessons from Fukushima.

The February 2013 Greenpeace report, 'Fukushima Fallout: Nuclear business makes people pay and suffer', was written by Antony Froggatt, Dr David McNeill, Prof Stephen Thomas and Dr Rianne Teule. It is posted at

Contact: Greg McNevin, Greenpeace International communications, greg.mcnevin[@]