Q&A: GE-Hitachi’s role in the Fukushima disaster in Japan

Page - March 6, 2013
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Why should GE-Hitachi assume responsibility for the Fukushima disaster?

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant consists of six reactors. Units 1 to 5 are based on the flawed Mark I design of the US company General Electric (GE). GE supplied the reactors for units 1, 2, and 6, and two Japanese companies supplied the other; Hitachi provided unit 4 and Toshiba provided units 3 and 5. It is likely that Hitachi was involved in maintenance and/or servicing of the nuclear power plant during the past decades.

Why does Greenpeace say GE-Hitachi has escaped responsibility for the Fukushima disaster?

Even if their negligence or faulty reactor parts cause an accident, a special law protects companies which sell or supply reactors. This means that they don’t have to compensate victims.   

As a result, companies which profited from building and servicing the Fukushima reactors, such as General Electric and Hitachi, cannot neither be held accountable nor made to pay victims any compensation. 

Why should GE-Hitachi pay compensation to victims when Fukushima’s operator and the regulator ignored the tsunami risk?

GE, Hitachi and Toshiba provided key equipment to the Fukushima nuclear power plant and should take responsibility for flaws in the reactors they build. Though the accident is still under investigation, it is clear that it was exacerbated by fundamental flaws related to the design and construction services supplied by GE and Hitachi.

What kind of flaws in the Fukushima reactor can be attributed to GE or Hitachi?

There is evidence of both known design flaws, and faulty construction methods, at the Fukushima reactors. This has been corroborated by engineers involved in reactors’ construction. .

GE engineer Dale G. Bridenbaugh highlighted a potential design flaw of the reactors in the 1970s, when he publicly questioned whether GE’s Mark I reactor would stand up to a loss-of-coolant accident. 

Mitsuhiko Tanaka, a former engineer with Hitachi, says the company covered up faults in the pressure vessel it produced for Fukushima’s reactor 4.  When Tanaka tried to make this information public after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, Hitachi threatened him saying “Think of your family.” Tanaka says other engineers in Japan are concerned about the reactor’s safety.

However this direct evidence cannot be validated in court because of the special law protecting reactor suppliers.

 

GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy Canada
How is GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy Canada connected to Fukushima?

Founded in 2007 it is an alliance of two engineering companies involved in the construction of the Fukushima nuclear station; US-based  GE and Japan-based Hitachi.Based in North Carolina, GE-Hitachi is a reactor vendor and service provider. The company operates separately from General Electric and Hitachi’s non-nuclear operations in Canada.

What does GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy Canada Inc. do in Canada?

At the Toronto facility GE-Hitachi produces uranium pellets used to fuel Canadian CANDU reactors. These uranium pellets are inserted into fuel bundles produced at its facility in Peterborough Ontario. 

Is GE-Hitachi exempt from compensating Canadian victims in the event of an accident at Darlington or Pickering?

Yes. Canada’s “Nuclear Liability Act” completely absolves suppliers of Canadian reactors from liability in the event of an accident at a Canadian reactor even if their negligence or faulty components contribute to radiation releases. 

Has GE-Hitachi done anything else to shield itself from liability in the event of an accident at Pickering or Darlington?

Yes. GE-Hitachi Canada’s US parent company has instructed it to completely separate its activities from its US division.  For example, engineers from the US parent company, are banned from servicing Canadian reactors.This was done in order to avoid American victims of an accident at Pickering or Darlington being able to sue in US courts. 

Does liability protection encourage risk-taking by Canadian reactor suppliers like GE-Hitachi?

Despite full knowledge of flaws in the design and construction of the Fukushima reactors, GE and Hitachi did nothing to correct them. They knew they had nothing to lose.

In Canada the “Nuclear Liability Act” tells companies like GE-Hitachi or SNC-Lavalin they won’t be held responsible if their negligence or faulty reactor parts cause an accident, leading to a radiation release. These companies know they don’t have to ensure their reactor parts are safe.

What does Greenpeace think of the local opposition to the GE-Hitachi’s uranium processing plant in a downtown Toronto neighborhood?

They have valid concerns. GE-Hitachi’s refuses to assume responsibility if its products cause an accident at the Pickering or Darlington nuclear stations. This irresponsible behavior raises serious questions.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) has essentially no criteria for assessing the acceptability of sites for nuclear installations.  As a result nuclear operators in Canada can run facilities no matter how close they are to densely populated areas. This lack of standards is why the Pickering nuclear station is allowed to operate so close to Toronto and GE-Hitachi’s uranium facility can operate in downtown Toronto.

What does Greenpeace want?

All companies in the nuclear industry should be responsible for the risks they create.  Greenpeace believes that the protection of the public and the environment should be the first priority of government legislation.  This requires a fundamental revision of the NLA so that the entire nuclear industry is fully accountable for its actions and accidents. Nuclear polluters must pay.

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