Category Archives: Nuclear Safety

Trip Report: Paks Nuclear Power Plant

paks overview

On July 7 Atomic Reporters, with the support of Hungary’s IAEA mission, organized a full-day tour of the Paks Nuclear Power Plant (NPP). Eleven Vienna-based journalists representing news organizations from eight different countries took the four hour bus ride to the power plant.

We were greeted in the visitors’ center by Geza Pekarik, technical director at the NPP. He gave a tailored PowerPoint presentation that provided an overview of the facility, contextualized nuclear power in Hungary’s energy mix and discussed planned construction of two additional reactors.

After the talk, we walked to the plant entrance, where security met us. The guards were friendly and unobtrusive. They had already received our personal data and were prepared before we arrived on site. Once past the sparkling steel gate our group was taken by minivan to the enormous hall housing reactor units 3 and 4.

Entrance to Paks NPP. Photo by Andrei Zolotov
Entrance to Paks NPP. Photo by Andrei Zolotov

We saw the domes covering the two reactor vessels. One of the units had been under maintenance and some of the radiation-shielding equipment still was present in the hall. Surrounding the vessel were six hermetically-sealed lids that covered the reactor’s pumps and steam generators, or heat exchangers. Plant personnel pointed out the blue IAEA video cameras monitoring the facility. Two men in white jumpsuits and hardhats were working on the plant floor. Members of our group commented on how orderly and clean the facility looked amid the densely engineered web of tubes and machines.

Next stop was the control room. This is the place where visitors recognize they are inside a 40-year-old facility. Not many fancy graphical-user interfaces here. The four operators in the room sat before drab green control panels populated with buttons and switches. Pathways of colored lights were embedded in the walls. A digital monitor blinked real-time power fluctuations. “What a boring job,” remarked one journalist looking at the men behind the glass partition. “It makes covering the Iran talks seem exciting,” said another.

We were shepherded into a freight elevator and hardhats awaited us when we got out. This was the generator hall, the place where condensing steam rips through the turbines that supply Hungary with 51% of the electricity it produces. The noise and vibrations engulfed our party once we entered. Conversation inside was scarce. Exhilarating and a little bit scary to see how much power a measly 3.5% percent enriched uranium can release.

That marked the end of our power plant tour. Unbeknownst to us was that the best was yet to come.

We hopped back onto the minivan and drove a short stretch from the plant to a low-rise building. It was a newly-erected training center, home to a complete VVER reactor disassembled and transported to Paks from Poland. It had never been commissioned and was therefore safe to approach. Hungary uses the facility for maintenance and emergency training for its own plant personnel as well as future operators from nuclear-newcomer states. Walking into the building, we were struck by sharp smells of fresh paint.

Reactor vessel in Paks NPP training center. Photo by Andrei Zolotov

It is hard to understate the awe experienced when standing next to a pressure vessel. Twenty-three meters deep with a 3-meter-wide diameter, this was the alloy ingot built to contain a reactor’s fission energy. While some journalists stared into the vessel’s maw, others ventured down a steel stairway to examine the steam generator, where they could shimmy down a narrow shaft marked inside with control numbers. Still other reporters examined two-meter long fuel assemblies and began to understand the complex craftwork needed to safely power a reactor. There were valves as big as a person and bolts greater than a fist. While cognoscente that these were components of potentially-deadly business, the combination of physical and intellectual stimulation they provided reminded some among us of a well-designed and organized playground. The sense of danger and discovery were balanced.

Reporters examine VVER fuel assemblies at the Paks NPP training center. Photo by Andrei Zolotov
Reporters examine VVER fuel assemblies at the Paks NPP training center. Photo by Andrei Zolotov

Well over our budgeted time, the Atomic Reporters trip drew to an end. We were treated to Hungarian carp soup in the plant’s cafeteria. Later in the afternoon we received a presentation about Hungary’s long-term high-level waste disposal strategy. Even at that late hour — and with 340 kilometers separating us from home in Vienna — the questions continued unabated. It is not often that reporters hear tangible plans from countries intent on confronting and solving the nuclear waste issue.

This was Atomic Reporters first excursion to a nuclear facility. Based on the feedback given, it won’t be our last. Stay tuned.

[ UPDATE: To see the full presentation and additional images, visit the Hungarian IAEA mission’s website]

Hans Brinker & the IAEA

Then he saw a very small hole in the dike! Now every child in Holland knows what that means…”The Silver Skates

Hans_Brinker_Madurodam If leadership is found in preparation for unforeseen events, then it is good that the International Atomic Energy Agency is seeking an “Emergency Communications Specialist.” The agency’s well-documented communications failures after the March 2011 Fukushima Dai-Ichi meltdown needed repair. Because reactor meltdowns are international incidents and sovereign states want facts to assess risk, the IAEA is perceived as the best-placed organization for information in times of need.

Continue reading Hans Brinker & the IAEA

Nuclear Karachi

Originally published on DAWN.com, December 16, 2013

By A.H. Nayyar, Pervez Hoodbhoy and Zia Mian

WORK has started on preparing the site for two large nuclear power plants in Karachi. Each of these reactors will be larger than the combined power of all the nuclear reactors currently operating in Pakistan.

This will be by far the largest nuclear construction project ever in Pakistan. It is not too late to ask a few basic questions so that people, especially those living in Karachi, know what they may be letting themselves in for.

Everyone knows the new reactors are being purchased from China. They will be designed and built by the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC).

What people may not know is that the reactors will be based on a design known as the ACP-1000 that is still under development by this Chinese nuclear power company. In effect, Pakistanis are buying reactors for the Karachi site that so far exist only on paper and in computer programmes — there is no operating reactor in China based on this design.

It was reported in April 2013 that the CNNC, the developer of the ACP-1000, had completed a “preliminary safety analysis report”, and was “working on construction design”.

This means so far there is not even a complete design. Since the new Karachi reactors will be the first of a kind, no one knows how safe they will be or how well they will work. The 20 million people of Karachi are being used as subjects in a giant nuclear safety experiment.

The Fukushima nuclear accident has shown that safety systems can fail catastrophically. The accident in 2011 struck Japanese reactors of a well-established design that had been operating for decades. Still, all kinds of things happened that were not expected by the reactor operators or managers or by nuclear safety authorities.

An important lesson of Fukushima is that nuclear establishments underestimate the likelihood and severity of possible accidents. Another important lesson is that these same establishments overestimate their ability to cope with a real nuclear disaster.

At Fukushima, the nuclear authorities failed dismally despite Japan’s legendary organisational capability, technological sophistication and social discipline.

Nearly 200,000 people living close to the Fukushima reactors were evacuated and some may never be allowed to return. Radiation was blown by the wind and contaminated the land to distances of over 30 km.

The US suggested its citizens living in that area of Japan move at least 80km away from the reactor. The government of Japan considered forced evacuation of everyone living within 170km of the reactor site and organising voluntary evacuation for people living as far as 250km from the plant.

Contaminated food and water was found at distances of 250km.

The financial cost of the clean-up so far is estimated to be about $100 billion and could eventually be much higher.

So how big, how dangerous and how costly is the nuclear experiment about to be carried out in Karachi?

An analysis undertaken two years ago, in 2011, by the science magazine Nature and Columbia University in New York showed that the nuclear reactor site in Karachi has more people living within 30km than any other reactor site in the world.

It found that, in 2011, there were eight million Karachi citizens living within this distance of the reactor. All of Karachi falls within 40km of the reactor site.

So far, there have been no public hearings or discussions of the suitability of the site for the new Karachi reactors. There is no report of an Environment Impact Assessment for the proposed new Karachi reactors. Neither the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission nor the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority has explained what will happen in case of an accident at the proposed reactor.

A preliminary study by one of the authors found that the plume of radioactive material that could be released from a severe nuclear accident could be blown eastward by the wind over the city, engulfing the most populous areas of Karachi.

There is also no information on the terms for the supply of nuclear fuel, such as how long the very hot, intensely radioactive spent nuclear fuel will stay at the site and how will it be safely stored until it is returned to China, if it is returned at all. The spent fuel stored at Fukushima was damaged in the accident and led to the release of radioactivity.

Finally, there is no information on what emergency plans, including for possible evacuation, have been drawn up as part of preparing for these large new reactors. There is no information whether such plans even exist.

Here is a question for those in charge of Karachi, in charge of Sindh and the federal authorities in Islamabad: how do you propose to evacuate many millions of people from Karachi in case of a severe nuclear accident at the new reactors?

One expects mass panic, with people deciding to save themselves and their families as best as they could, clogging the roads, and delaying the escape of others closer to the reactor. Can any plan work in such an environment?

Finally, there is the cost in terms of money. Reports suggest the two reactors may cost $9-10 billion. They will be paid for by taking loans from China. There is little information on the details of the financing of the reactors, including the final cost of decommissioning and waste disposal.

There is not even a publicly available government study showing that these reactors are the least-cost option for producing the expected amount of electricity.

The issue of cost also must include the consequences of accidents. If there is an accident at the new Karachi reactors due to a problem with the reactor design or the construction, who will pay the vast sums needed to cover the damage and clean-up — Pakistan or China?

The people of Karachi have a right to know the answers to these questions. It is time they started asking.

The writers are physicists with an interest in nuclear issues.

In the news (October 1 – October 7 2013)

Japan’s unholy alliance

Up on Cripple Creek, she sends me

If I spring a leak, she mends me

I don’t have to speak, as she defends me

A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one

The “she” in Robbie Robertson’s 1969 ballad “Up on Cripple Creek,” performed by The Band, was Bessie.

Japan’s nuclear village, represented among others by Keidanren, the voice of Japanese big business, has its own forgiving Bessie too, in the shape of Japan’s Ministry of Energy Trade and Industry (METI).

Atomic Reporters may take some salutary lessons in following the consequence of the accident at Fukushima Daichi; where there’s nuclear there’s usually a village and village life, well…it’s village life.

The latest announcement from Japan’s troubled nuclear village – is that Keidanren, supported by METI, has declared its intention to take the low road away from climate goals while nuclear power remains switched off. Keidanren is the name given to the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations.

And METI,  you may recall, was the ministry that controlled the  discredited Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) before it was reincarnated as the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), and may have more than its fair share of blame for the current misfortune. SimplyInfo, a crowd sources site carried this comment on METI’s competence from August 23.

See also Jeff Kingston’s latest review as to why 94 per cent of Japanese don’t believe the Fukushima disaster has been brought under control. Keep in mind, METI has been put in charge of the leaks springing from waste water tanks at the Fukushima site.

It’s not only in Japan that the nuclear village life has such national dominion. Reporters in newcomer states such as Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Turkey, Belarus, the UAE and others, would be well advised to heed the Japanese nuclear saga, and persistently challenge smiling faces.

This is how news media best fulfills its public function – not to cast any aspersions on Japan’s own news media, where some of the most dogged and critical journalism has been accomplished by local as well as national journalists. But Fukushima,  and before it Chernobyl, and before it, TMI, and Windscale – Mayak is not overlooked – all share a common denominator,  they were the consequence of cavalier behavior, of business  conducted out of critical public view and oversight.

Question: Is the irony well appreciated that an industry seeking to position itself as a rational low carbon alternative to fossil fuel power is willing to push for the abandonment of carbon emission targets, and how does this sit with the global nuclear village?

More from Fukushima

Tepco’s credibility is again under fire, as a U.S. researcher challenges the company’s statement that that the radioactive groundwater leaking out of Fukushima will only affect the coastline. In an interview with Bloomberg Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who has conducted his own tests of Japanese waters called the Tepco’s claim that all irradiated water would remain  within 0.3 square kilometers of the bay “not true to the science” and “silly.”

Nuclear Industry

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that Walter Tamosaitis, a lifelong worker and senior scientist at URS Corp was fired on Thursday. URS operates the largest radioactive waste treatment facility in Hanford, Washington, and Tamosaitis was the man whose technical concerns about the $12.3-billion  plant’s design brought construction to a halt, so it’s no wonder that whistleblowing watchdog Hanford Challenge called it “another act of retribution against Walter Tamosaitis.”

The White House and Iran

Julie Pace, White House correspondent for AP, conducted an in-depth interview with US President Barack Obama on Saturday. The section that most interests Atomic Reporters comes about midway, when Pace asks him to comment on Iran.  Obama believes Rouhani represents a positive step for Iran and lets slip that America’s March estimation, that Iran is at least a year away from being able to even produce nuclear weapons, is the same as it was then.

Orphaned (Re)source: LC 16/INF.2

Dear Readers,

Today we bring you the first in an occasional series of hard-to-find, nuclear-related research in need of a home online. Our first submission, “LC 16/INF.2” comes via the International Maritime Organization, where it was submitted by Russian authorities in 1993. The document, posted in three parts due to its size, provides a comprehensive view of Soviet and Russian disposal of radioactive wastes at sea. It was presented to the IMO in the wake of the 1993 incident in which Russia dumped 900 tons, or less-than 3 curies, of liquid waste into the Sea of Japan.

“Matters Related to the Disposal of Radioactive Wastes at Sea”
Submitted to the Russian Federation to the IMO Sept. 14, 1993

LC 16_INF.2 part 1

LC 16_INF.2 part 2

LC 16_INF.2 part 3

In the news (September 18 – September 24 2013)

Welcome back, dear readers. Thanks for checking in. We’re happy to report that people from 41 countries have perused our weekly review in the last month.

Twenty-one years ago today, the U.S. detonated the last of its 1,032 nuclear-bomb tests beneath Nevada’s desert floor. Can you still feel the Earth shake? Also, 17 years ago, on September 24, 1996, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) opened for signature in a ceremony at the UN headquarters in New York. U.S. President Bill Clinton was the first one to sign. China followed. Both states have yet to ratify the treaty.

 Nuclear Safeguards — Iran

 Eyes and ears are focused on New York this week, where the annual United Nations General Assembly hosts leaders from around the world. Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, is expected to make his speech today and there has been much hand wringing over whether the Persian nation’s new leader is a man to be trusted.

Shane Harris at Foreign Policy writes that Rouhani has a fan club among Western intelligence agencies due to his reputation for moderation dating back to contacts with Reagan’s National Security Council in 1986. That hasn’t stopped both Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress from warning President Barack Obama from making contact with his Iranian counterpart, wrote Julian Pecquet in The Hill. The Chairwomen of the House Foreign Affairs Middle East panel, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, went so far as to express longing for Rouhani’s predecessor: “[Rouhani] is the master of disguise. He knows how to do the charm offensive on the U.S. and is charming the snakes coming out of the basket with his sweet tune of reconciliation and love of the Jews. And it’s working. I miss Ahmadinejad: he was so `what you see is what you get.'”

The UN’s permanent Security Council members and Germany will meet with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, wrote Laura Rozen for The Back Channel. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was “struck by the energy and determination” showed by Zarif at the meeting of world leaders. Writing in The Guardian, Iran’s former reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, said that Rouhani enjoys “explicit public support from the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic [which] provides Rouhani and his colleagues with the necessary authority for a diplomatic resolution of a number of foreign policy issues with the West, not jus the nuclear issue.”

Finally, in an article that left Atomic Reporters scratching its head, the editorial department of the Christian Science Monitor bumbled and fumbled while pondering whether “Nuclear Power is Really the Core of Iran’s National Identity.” Leaving aside the propositional fallacies in logic that the author(s) trip over, we would recommend that they bone up Iran’s post-revolutionary trade history (to understand why they’d want their own fuel cycle) as well as familiarize themselves with the economic spin-offs from harnessing nuclear power (medical, mining, food). They might then want to ask themselves if the UN’s five recognized nuclear nations would even be sitting at the same table with Iran if it weren’t for the atomic work… Meah, maybe it’d just be easier for them to consult their own Middle East writer, veteran journalist Scott Peterson.

Question: Would there be a third nation willing to take the U.S. and Iranian crazies extremists during the duration of serious negotiations? How should the media balance recognition of the positions that these people hold with the ludicrous bile emitting from their mouths?

Nuclear Safeguards: Burma

On the occasion of the IAEA General Conference, Burma (Myanmar) signed the Additional Protocol to its existing safeguards agreement with the Agency. Once it has entered into force, the AP will enable inspectors to track more nuclear-related activities in the country, another sign by the reclusive regime that it’s willing to open up to the international community. However, for the deal to be implemented it needs ratification by the Burmese government. SIPRI’s Robert Kelley, writing for the Democratic Voice of Burma,  reminds us that ratification as well as the process of compiling and declaring a list with all nuclear-related activities might take years and points out that the Burmese government can ‘cut its own red tape’ by voluntarily cooperating with the IAEA and allowing  initial inspections.

Question: What’s the latest on Brazil’s, Argentina’s and Egypt’s stance on the Additional Protocol?

 Syria

Here at AR we’re often left wondering how far down the Syrian rabbit hole we should venture. To be sure, there is the curious case of Dair Alzour, the alleged reactor destroyed in a September 2007 Israeli air raid. But those items of yesteryear pale in comparison to the gruesome chemical-, artillery-, air- and small-arms weaponry that has left scores of thousands dead and millions homeless.

And yet, and yet…

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told the New York Times that Iran would be welcomed to the Geneva meetings seeking redress to the Syrian stalemate as long as Tehran’s government understands “that there is a Chinese wall between the Syrian case and the nuclear program.” It sounds silly and disingenuous to convene a meeting over Syria’s future without inviting Iran, especially after reading Dexter Filkins masterful portrait of Iran’s Qassem Suleimani in the New Yorker.

“ Although the Iranians were severely strained by American sanctions, imposed to stop the regime from developing a nuclear weapon, they were unstinting in their efforts to save Assad. Among other things, they extended a seven-billion-dollar loan to shore up the Syrian economy. “I don’t think the Iranians are calculating this in terms of dollars,” a Middle Eastern security official told Filkins. “They regard the loss of Assad as an existential threat.”

Finally, we’re late to this Carnegie Endowment piece on how lessons learned from Iraq’s nuclear-verification regime may be applied on Syria’s chemical weapons.

Question: Are the Fabius comments meant to rule out the possibility of a “Grand Bargain?” Suleimani and other veterans of the Iran-Iraq war are becoming old men, which hasn’t stopped them from engineering adequate counter-insurgency operations in Syria, but does point to a battlefield shelf-life. At what point does the absence of a deal push Iran to take the offensive, lest its tested military assets expire?

Nuclear Security

In The Copenhagen Post, Cindy Vestergaard writes how Denmark and Greenland are meeting to determine how rare-earth metals on the island can be mined with assurance that the 260,000 tones of associated uranium that would also need to come out of the ground isn’t used in weapons. Who knows, maybe during the excavating they’ll find residue from that nuclear bomb lost back in 1968 by a B-52 near Thule?

Speaking of unsecured nuclear bombs, Journalist Eric Schlosser obtained through a Freedom of Information Act filing a document shedding new light on how close the U.S. came to unleashing nuclear Armageddon on itself in a January 1961 accident over North Carolina. “In the newly-published document, a senior engineer in the Sandia national laboratories responsible for the mechanical safety of nuclear weapons  concludes that `one simple, dynamo-technology, low voltage switch stood between the  United States  and a major catastrophe.'” 

Questions: The Schlosser story brings to mind two possible narratives. In the first, 1950s engineers were told to make a safety system that would guarantee that a bomb would not go off unless all steps in a designed series of events took place. In the second, somebody built a $5 switch that failed to work at a critical time and the bomb failed to work when it should have.  Could the 1961 accident over North Carolina in fact have demonstrated the security of the system? Or, did the Soviets in fact miss their first-strike opportunity not knowing that the U.S. arsenal was filled with duds?

Nuclear Safety — Fukushima

AFP reported that Japan dumped 1,130 tons of low-level-radioactive water into the sea as a result of Typhoon Man-yi. Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reiterated calls for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to “confront reality” over the waste-water build-up. The paper also reported that the Liberal Democrat Party will seek to extend the statute of limitations on damages from the Fukushima meltdown to seven years.

Other nuclear news of note

New York based NGO United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) announced September 23 that Dr. Gary Samore, who recently served with the Obama administration for four years as White House Coordinator for WMD Counter-Terrorism and Arms Control, will serve as the new President of UANI. On 20 September Jaime Aguirre Gomez of Mexico’s National Commission for Nuclear Safety and Safeguards added the 5th piece for the online roundtable on development and disarmament hosted by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Tuesday Bonus

 Austria’s Nobel-Prize winning playwright Elfriede Jelinek’s play, Kein Licht (No Light), opened at Vienna’s Kosmos Theater after running in Japan. The play is said to describe the harsh conditions immediately after the Tohoku earthquake and nuclear disaster.

Kosmos Pic

In the news (September 10 – September 17 2013)

Syria

Welcome back to all our readers! Another week, another digest. First, we return to one of last week’s more prominent stories; on Russia’s concerns that a US led air offensive could lead to the catastrophic destruction of the Miniature Neutron Source Reactor near Damascus. Well, the Anadolu Agency reports that the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has issued a statement calling such claims “unrealistic.” Associated Senior Research Fellow of SIPRI, Robert Kelley, refuted the claim that Syria even had anything that could accurately be termed a “nuclear program.”

“There is a little tiny nuclear reactor in Syria.  It is located in the desert at Deir al Hajar, 15 km from the Damascus city limit.  It is not in the suburbs as some would tell you,” said Kelley “As I noted, they are interested in medical isotopes… It would be a gross mischaracterization to call these hospitals ‘nuclear programs’ or ‘nuclear capabilities’. They are not military in any way and have zero contribution to military programs.”

Ian Anthony, another SIPRI research fellow, claimed that the reactor was too small to melt down at all, being “ten thousand times smaller than Fukushima” and that its location meant it could not be at risk of collateral damage. Tom Collina, an expert in Arms Control Association, said that Syria does not have materials needed to pursue a nuclear weapons program in the first place, and that “I do not think the US would target the research reactor. If it is destroyed by accident, yes there is a chance of contamination but not mass casualties.”

Questions: In 2007 Israeli destroyed a supposed nuclear reactor in Syria.  But from that day until now not a single other piece of the nuclear fuel cycle required to support a reactor has been found.  Since there are no other elements of a nuclear program in Syria other than the tiny reactor is there any threat of public damage from nuclear fuel cycle facilities being hit?  Is there a danger of public risk if hospital sources or food irradiators are hit?

Nuclear Arsenals – Israel’s numbers

Batsheva Sobelman points out in the Los Angeles Times that the new estimate on Israel’s nuclear arsenal by Hans Kirstensen and Robert Norris in their article Global Nuclear Weapons Inventories, published in the September/October issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, agrees with the number given by SIPRI in their 2013 Yearbook, again by Kirstensen together with Philipp Schell. The two studies place Israel’s arsenal at the number 80 which is lower than previous estimates. Kirstensen and Norris further claim that Israel has nuclear material for 115 to 190 more warheads.

Question:  What is more important, the quantity or quality of Israel’s nuclear bombs? Is Israel’s nuclear weapon capability a motivating factor for Arab States to also seek nuclear weapons?  Do NGO’s estimating warhead numbers take thermonuclear weapons into account or do they assume that all the material goes into simple fission bombs?  That could explain the difference.

IAEA and the Middle East WMD-Free Zone

Dan Joyner points out on the blog Arms Control Law that in the 2013 report “Application of IAEA Safeguards in the Middle East” issued annually by the IAEA, a reference that has been included in every report since 2004 was absent this time. The reference in question was the listing by name of 24 countries whose territories would comprise a proposed WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East. Joyner believes that this definition had helped avoid some serious complications in an already complex situation and further surmises that the deletion was not coincidental…

Questions: Given the sensitivity of the Middle East issue, can the dropping of the definition of the zone be the result of an oversight? If not, then it would be really interesting to find out where this idea originated from and the reasoning behind it.

Nuclear Safety – Fukushima

Japan and the crew at the Fukushima NPP are bracing for the typhoon Man-Yi. Japan’s NHK reports from the site that the main worry would come from the rain overflowing the basement of turbine buildings and the underground tunnel where highly contaminated water has accumulated. Workers have tied down outdoor pumps and piping, used to inject water into the reactors, and have placed weights on the large cranes used for removing the debris to stop them toppling over.

On the subject of natural disasters and the responsibility of corporate executives and government officials to deal with them, the Yomiuri Shimbun reports that the on Thursday, the Tokyo District Prosecutor’s Office announced there will be no indictment for 42 TEPCO executives and government officials on the charges of ‘professional negligence.’ The main reason being, according to Yomiuri’s report, that “to establish a case for professional negligence in such a situation, there must be evidence to prove failure to take necessary steps despite being aware of the potential danger of the tsunami, instead of merely a nebulous feeling that a crisis could occur,” and that “the extremely chaotic nature of the crisis made it very hard for prosecutors to charge a particular individual with criminal responsibility for the accident.”

Question: If the “chaotic nature of a crisis” as Yomiuri describes the reasoning of the prosecutors, helps the ones in charge get off the hook; wouldn’t it then be in their interest to keep things “chaotic” rather than “under control”?

Nuclear Energy – Japan

Japan’s power grid is now running 100 percent nuclear-free following the shutdown of the No. 4 reactor at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi NPP for a routine maintenance checkup. For the 2nd time since the Fukushima disaster, every one of Japan’s 50 reactors is quiet. The Mainichi reports that it will take at least until the end of the year until any of them are restarted and Kanoko Matsuyama cautions that the country’s winter power needs may not be met solely by oil-burning power plants in this Bloomberg article. Phillip Inman of The Guardian talks about how the closures will affect Britain’s economy, saying “A survey and report published by the business lobby group the CBI found that around 95% of British business leaders are worried about the cost of energy and that more than three-quarters of them have little faith that matters will improve in the next five years.” Meanwhile, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote a piece for The Telegraph skewering Shinzo Abe’s long-term intentions to reinvigorate the Japanese economy with affordable energy as the crux of his plan.

Questions: Is it by coincidence that governments in developed countries find it more and more difficult to support and sustain plans for long term development and reliance on nuclear energy? Is it the pressure from the public/constituencies, the confidence that they can rely on others sources of energy  or the less pressing needs and less dramatic energy needs projections for the next decades compared to those of the developing world? Is it fair to say that the ‘nuclear renaissance’ didn’t die out; it just emigrated ‘south’?

Nuclear Energy – Pakistan-China cooperation

Nuclear energy business-oriented news site World Nuclear News (WNN) reports that in late August Chinese companies and Pakistan inked a series of deals for the construction of two nuclear reactors in Pakistan. “The cost of the two 1100 MWe ACP1000 units – to be built at the coastal Karachi site near Paradise Point in Sindh province about 25 kilometres west of the capital – has been put at PKR959 billion ($9.6 billion),” reports WNN.

So far when asked about doing business with Pakistan even though China is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Chinese brought forth the ‘grandfather’ argument: that they were refurbishing the 40 year old reactors at Chasma which they had built prior to their NSG membership. But this is an entirely new project and, as the report points out, it’s the ‘good ole’ item specific safeguards (INFCIRC 66) that will be applied again.

Question: How will this new deal sit with China’s partners in the Nuclear Suppliers Group? Can this play out in the near future as a fait accompli in getting Pakistan the same NSG exemption with India? And on a different note and beyond any implications for the nonproliferation and export control regimes, could this be good news when it comes to enhancing nuclear safety or in other words, how much safer will the new reactors be compared to the 40 year old ones currently operated in Pakistan?

Nuclear Literature

Eric Schlosser, perhaps most famous for authoring Fast Food Nation, has decided to tackle the subject of nuclear weapons protocol in his new book, Command and Control. Walter Russell Mead reviewed it for The New York Times, calling it “disquieting but riveting” while also acknowledging that “Schlosser is a better reporter than policy analyst, and his discussion of what we should do about the problem he so grippingly describes is disappointingly thin.” Schlosser’s book documents a number of accidents involving nuclear weapons and near-misses during the Cold War, a subject he returns to in an article he wrote for The Guardian last week. This piece focuses specifically on the status of Britain’s stockpile of trident missiles, but the author touches on the same base point: “Nuclear weapons are the most lethal machines ever invented, but the deterrence they provide is something intangible.”

The Question:  The issue of accidents does not adequately reflect the sudden drop in the number of NW accidents in the period after the one Schlosser describes.  Is it true that taking NW off airborne alert drastically reduced the risk of accident and made nuclear weapons storage and handling as safe as any other military munitions?

Tuesday Bonus

Iran’s ex-Foreign Minister and current head of the country’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, answered questions yesterday in Vienna after delivering his speech to the IAEA’s general conference. “The president, the foreign minister and myself are a group that is like-minded,” he said, adding that they have “a more full-fledged desire” to resolve the standoff.

Salehi Photo