Anti-nuclear protests in Tokyo —and around the planet

More than a hundred protesters gathered outside the headquarters of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) on April 15, with banners reading "No Nukes" and "Nuclear Kills All Life." Demonstrators demanded a halt to Japan's nuclear development plans, as well as protesting the compensation package announced by TEPCO to those affected by the Fukushima disaster—$12,000 to families of two or more members and $9,000 for people living alone. (NTD TV, April 15) The protest came as the government admitted the area around Fukushima could be uninhabitable for nearly a generation. Kenichi Matsumoto, an aide to Prim Minister Naoto Kan, said (in a classically Orwellian construction) that the contamination will "momentarily"* bar the area's human habitability for between "10 and 20 years." (AGI, April 13)

A nuclear expert has warned that it might be a century before melting fuel rods can be safely removed from the Fukushima plant. "As the water leaks out, you keep on pouring water in, so this leak will go on for ever," said Dr John Price, a former member of the Safety Policy Unit at the UK's National Nuclear Corporation. "There has to be some way of dealing with it. The water is connecting in tunnels and concrete-lined pits at the moment and the question is whether they can pump it back. The final thing is that the reactors will have to be closed and the fuel removed, and that is 50 to 100 years away. It means that the workers and the site will have to be intensely controlled for a very long period of time." (Radio Australia, April 1)

In Taipei, Taiwan, a small group of activists staged an anti-nuclear demonstration on April 15, ahead of a nationwide protest slated for April 30. Members of the Green Citizen’s Action Alliance gathered in front of the Ministry of Economic Affairs to demand the government stop construction of Taiwan's fourth nuclear power plant and halt operations at the three existing plants. (Taipei Times, April 16)

At Jaitapur in India's Maharashtra state, local farmers have stepped up their protests against a planned nuclear power plant. Opponents note the area was hit by 95 earthquakes from 1985 to 2005. Indian officials counter most were minor and that the plant’s clifftop location would offer protection from tsunamis. But the Jaitapur project is only one part of a major thrust of planned nuclear development in India. Delhi's nuclear ambitions over the next generation are second only to China's, with a quarter of the nation’s electricity slated to come from atomic reactors by 2050. (NYT, April 15)

Anti-nuclear protesters demonstrated outside the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) meeting in San Francisco on April 14, demanding that no new plants be built and licenses for the state's existing plants not be renewed. Several made the connection between Pacific Gas and Electric's nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon and the company's deadly natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno last year. (KGO, San Francisco, April 14)

In the Northeast, anti-nuclear activists began a cross-country march from New York state's Indian Point nuclear complex to the Vermont Yankee plant. The "Peace Pilgrimage for a Nuclear-Free World" is intended to express solidarity with the victims of Fukushima as well as oppose nuclear power in the United States. (Peekskill-Cortlandt Patch, April 14)

See our last post on the Fukushima disaster.

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* This word was presumably translated from Japanese to Italian by AGI, and then into English for AGI's English-language service. We can hope the original was closer to something like "temporarily."

NRC rewards Entergy for irresponsibility

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board panel handling the Indian Point license renewal application on March 30 rejected a post-Fukushima contention filed by two area environmental groups saying it was too generic in nature to be considered. The board dismissed the contention by Riverkeeper and Hudson River Sloop Clearwater that the environmental impact statement developed by the NRC staff on the application is flawed because it did not take into consideration lessons learned from the Japanese nuclear power disaster. (Mid-Hudson News, March 31)

Two days earlier, it was announced that Entergy, owner of the Indian Point plant, has agreed to pay a $1.2 million penalty for a transformer explosion at its Unit 2 reactor that spilled oil into the Hudson River in November 2010. The New York state Department of Environmental Conservation said that "longstanding structural conditions" led to the failure of a containment system that should have prevented the oil from flowing into the river. (NYT, March 27)

US appeals court rules on nuclear regulation "exemptions"

A Jan. 8 press release from the office of former NYS Assemblyman Richard Brodsky:

Federal Appeals Court Reverses Brodsky v. NRC Decision
Brodsky v. NRC is the federal litigation challenging the NRC's practice of  issuing "exemptions" to its own health and safety regulations at Indian Point, and to do so in complete secrecy.  The plaintiffs argued that Federal law requires the NRC to notify and involve the public before it allows Entergy to violate NRC health and safety requirements. Yesterday the United States 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals issued its' decision on the matters argued last May in New York City.  The Court agreed with the plaintiffs, and expressed grave concern about the NRC's ongoing practice of making safety decisions in secret. A copy of the 2nd Circuit decision is available here

The Appeals Court remanded the case to the District Court and required the NRC to appear and explain why public participation was "inappropriate or impracticable."

In other words, the Court has created a new legal standard and legal presumption in favor of public participation in "exemption" decisions. From now on the NRC must permit public participation or explain why it's not going to do so.  This is a substantial victory because there are hundreds, if not thousands, of such secret "exemptions" at Indian Point and at other reactors across the country which have weakened or evaded safety and health requirements.  It's now possible to seek an accounting of those "exemptions" and challenge many of them.

The particular Indian Point "exemption" challenged in Brodsky v. NRC dealt with fire safety.  NRC Rules require that the electric cables that control reactor shutdown in an emergency have fire insulation that lasts one hour.  When tested, the insulation at Indian Point (and elsewhere) lasted 27 minutes.  Rather than require Entergy to upgrade the insulation to meet the one hour requirement the NRC, at Entergy's request, issued an "exemption" that lowered the requirement to 24 minutes.  It did so without notifying the public of its consideration of Entergy's application, or permitting the public to comment, or participate, or attend a public hearing.

By ending the secrecy of the "exemption" process the Court has created two important dynamics.  First, it will be difficult if not impossible for the NRC to continue to use secrecy as a shield for decisions that are at best controversial and at worst truly dangerous.  Second, we can begin to examine the true extent of "exemptions" at Indian Point and scores of other reactors.  Both are important parts of making the NRC a fair and effective regulator.

California's second-to-last last nuke plant to close

Some good news. NPR reports that Southern California Edison is preparing to close the San Onofre nuclear power plant outside San Diego. The plant has been offline since early last year because of a radiation leak. Plants at Humboldt Bay and Rancho Seco, outside Sacramento, have already been closed due to citizen pressure. That leaves Diablo Canyon, on the Central Coast, as the last in California—despite the fact that it lies on an earthquake  fault. Let's hope it is next.