Accident at Japan nuclear plant

Feature story - August 9, 2004
A fatal accident has killed at least four people at the Mihama nuclear power plant in Japan. There was no leak of radioactivity but it is the deadliest accident in a catalogue of nuclear scandals in Japan.

Fishermen in front of the Mihama nuclear plant after the 1991 accident at the plant. Now a second accident has claimed the live of at least four workers. Alternative energy sources like wind and solar would have avoided this pollution and death.

Seven workers were also injured due to the steam leak, possibly caused by a lack of cooling water in the reactor. This latest accident follows the explosion at Tokaimura plant in 1999, where workers mixed radioactive material in a bucket, causing a reaction that killed two workers, injured several more and irradiated hundreds of civilians. In 1997 also at Tokaimura a fire and explosion released radioactive gas into the atmosphere. In 1995 a serious accident at the Monju fast breeder reactor led to its shut down. In 1991 another reactor at the same Mihama plant suffered a serious radioactive leak.

Japan is heavily reliant on dangerous nuclear power for its electricity. While the government recklessly backs the nuclear industry come what may, public opposition to nuclear power is growing due the appalling safety record of the industry. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is still trying to recover from the recent scandal it caused by falsifying safety inspections, which forced it to shut down all of its 17 nuclear reactors. Kansai Electric Power Company, the owner of Mihama, was also implicated in that scandal. TEPCO has also just shutdown a nuclear power generation unit at its Fukushima-Daini plant because of a water leak.

Kansai Electric was also at the centre of a nuclear scandal in 1999, when nuclear fuel delivered by British Nuclear Fuels was found to contain falsified safety data. The resultant scandal set back Japan's plans to use large amounts of plutonium as fuel in its reactors.

Japan's nuclear reactors are ageing - many are almost 30 years old. Rather than increasing safety measure and closing old reactors the government is doing the exact opposite - reducing regulation of the industry. As nuclear power is so expensive many of the generating companies have huge debts and have cut plant safety measures to save money.

At the same time, hundreds of billions of yen are being sought to cover the costs of a new plutonium reprocessing plant at Rokkasho-mura in northern Japan, which is hugely uneconomic, environmentally polluting, and increases the risk of nuclear proliferation in east Asia.

While there remain many uncertainties as to the exact cause of this accident at Mihama, one thing is certain - there will be more and worse to come.

This avoidable loss of life comes on the 59th anniversary of the dropping of the US nuclear bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki.

Despite the legacy of Nagasaki, this Mihama accident, the appalling safety record of the nuclear industry, and with low public trust in the country's nuclear program, the government and industry is pressing ahead with more new nuclear power plants and new nuclear facilities.

Alternatives sources of energy, such as wind, are not only safe, but are also cleaner and cheaper than nuclear power. A suitable response to these deaths would be the ditching of the dangerous, expensive and polluting menace of nuclear power in favour of alternative energy sources.

More:

Learn about the problems of nuclear power.

BBC - Analysis of Japanese nuclear scandals and video from the scene on growing public opposition to nuclear power in Japan (real media)

Japan Times - Pipes eluded nuclear plant regs.

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