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“I Want You to Know What a Nuclear Power Plant Is”

May 24, 2011

We are very grateful to Yasuo Akai for contributing this translation!  Thanks, Yasuo!!  Also, thanks to Jayda Fogel for assisting Yasuo!

Norio Hirai
I Want You to Know What a Nuclear Power Plant Is

I’m not an anti-nuclear power plant activist.

Monju reactor

I have worked in the nuclear power plants for twenty years. There have been various debates over them. Some are for these places, others against them. Some say that they are safe; others declare that they are dangerous. I shall tell you what a nuclear power plant actually is, which few people really know. After finishing this, you will understand that every day the nuclear power plants are poisoning people, as well as causing discrimination and injustice—contrary to what you may have been told so far.

I am going to tell you many stories that you may never have heard. Please read all of this, and then consider what should be done. While there are many people capable of explaining how the plants are designed, I am the only one who can explain how they are actually built. You can never know the reality of nuclear power plants without first understanding the actual construction sites.

I am an engineer specializing in building the pipelines for large chemical plants. In my late twenties Japan started building nuclear power plants and I was recruited onto the sites. A no-rank worker knows nothing, even if he has worked at a plant for decades. However, I worked for a long time as a manager, and so I know almost everything about what is going on there.

Designing is one thing, building is another.

We have been increasingly worried about whether the nuclear power plants are strong enough to withstand earthquakes, especially after the Great Hanshin Earthquake (or Kobe Earthquake) on January 17, 1995. They are not—though the government and the electric power companies claim that they are—safe. They stress the high standards of seismic design and the solid rock upon which they are built. This may be so, but only when they are initially planned.

One day after the earthquake, I visited Kobe. There I discovered that the problems there were shared in common by nuclear power plants and that I would have to be more serious about it. No one could have imagined that the rails of the bullet train would fall, or that the elevated highway would collapse on its side.

We were told that officials strictly examined whether the nuclear plants, the bullet train, and the highway, were properly built. However, part of the wooden formwork for the concrete structure was found inside the piers of the elevated railway structure of the bullet train, and the structural steel of the highway piers was not adequately welded. At a casual glance the work-pieces appeared to be bonded together, but the filler was not melted enough, causing the welded parts to eventually become disjointed.

Why did all of this happen? Mostly it was because we did not watch the process of construction, being too busy designing them. That caused those accidents, if not directly then eventually.

The unskilled workers build the plants.

There are too many man-made errors at nuclear power plants: leaving steel wire inside the reactor, or connecting the pipelines without taking the tools out. Few workers are professional and—even though a good plan is given to them—capable of building it accordingly. A plan only works when it is executed by the best of professionals. Yet no one questions whether these plants are built by skilled workers, nor in what conditions the plants are built. The reality is that the workers and the inspectors are not professional—not only at nuclear power plants, but also at other construction sites. No wonder severe accidents occurred at the nuclear power plants, as well as the bullet train and highways.

The nuclear power plants in Japan are finely designed with protection from multiple barriers which would, if something goes wrong, stop its operations. But that is only in the design; things go wrong during the constructions.

Bad builders can ruin a house designed by an excellent and licensed architect, the roof leaks, the doors and windows do not shut properly. It is regrettable that nuclear power plants in Japan can be likened to such a house.

Not so long ago, any group of construction workers was led by a professional who was more experienced than their much younger manager. Such professionals were proud of their jobs, compromising and thus causing an accident was shameful to them and more importantly, they understand how terrible an accident was. But a decade or so ago, they disappeared. Now people who have no skills or knowledge whatsoever are recruited. These unskilled workers do not comprehend how terrible an accident is, what is proper or improper conduct, nor when it can be said that a job has been compromised. This is the reality.

For example, the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant operated by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) was operated while there was steel wire left inside one of its reactors; this could have caused a severe accident that would have affected the world. The worker who left the wire knew what he had done, but he did not understand what his action meant. He had no idea that it could have caused a severe accident. It is in this sense, that the plants built by unskilled workers are no less dangerous than those old and tired ones.

Due to the decreasing numbers of skilled workers, the process of the construction has been simplified to allow for those without skills to proceed. The workers do not read the plans anymore. They are simply jointing the units that the factories prepared, akin to children playing with toy blocks. The workers never know exactly what they are doing, or how crucial each of these parts is. This is one of the reasons that the number of accidents has increased.

Please note that radiation also makes it difficult to train workers—such is the nature of this workplace. The site is hot and dark, and wearing the radiation protective masks makes it difficult for the workers to talk to one another. Instead they communicate with gestures, and it is impossible to teach there. Moreover, the more skilled a worker is the shorter the amount of time he can work becomes. Because he is more skilled, he is more likely to be exposed faster to the annual limitation of radiation allowed by the law, than those other unskilled workers. So there is no other choice left, than to use unskilled workers.

A welder for example, over the age of thirty, is no longer accurate enough to do delicate jobs like those at oil refineries because his eyes have been damaged. Therefore he must seek out a job at a nuclear power plant, even though he is likely to be underpaid.

Those who think that the engineering of a nuclear power plants is highly sophisticated, are deluded. It is not like that. Unskilled workers build the plants, and it will only get worse in the future.

Ineffective inspections

Some say that though skilled workers have left the sites, it will still be fine if the plants are being inspected carefully. But the problem is how they are being inspected. In Japan they are inspected after the construction has been completed, which is ineffective. It is crucial to watch the actual process of construction.

An inspector must be a skilled engineer, for example he must be able to teach how to weld. An inspector without skills cannot actually perform. In reality however, the officials in charge of the inspections hear only what the manufacturers and the construction companies explain, and then certify if their documents are correct.

When accidents at the nuclear power plants were becoming too numerous to ignore, the Cabinet decided to send special officials to each plants. They were in charge of giving out permission for operation after the construction of a new plant or a regular inspection had been completed. I knew they were not professionals however, they were even worse than I could have imagined.

A man among the audience at my lecture in Mito City who called himself a bureaucrat from the Science and Technology Agency and who revealed his own name, commented on how bad they were. According to him, his agency strongly refused to send its officials, as it knew that if its officials were sent they would be exposed to radiation. At that time a reformation of bureaucracy was going on, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forest and Fisheries had to reduce the numbers of its officials. So, those officials who had previously worked on fish farming or silk farming became special inspectors for nuclear power plants. They gave permission to operate these plants to unskilled and unknowledgeable operators. Those who know nothing were giving a permission to operate the plants. For example—the man revealed the officials name—he had met such an official at the Mihama Nuclear Power Plant who had only three months previously been inspecting rice. How can we trust an operation permit given by such utter non-professionals?

When an accident so serious as to cause the emergency core cooling system to be used, took place at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant run by TEPCO, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported that the special official in charge was not notified about the accident. It wasn’t until the day after the accident when the official read his newspaper that he was made aware that an accident had taken place at all. I can explain why no one let him know. The TEPCO operators knew that he had no knowledge of the plant`s operations and so they judged that there was no time to waste by having to explain to him the situation in detail, similar to having to tell a child. They were too busy dealing with a serious situation, and having him there would not have been helpful. So, he was not informed about the accident.

Such incompetent officials lead the plant inspectors, and those inspectors are retired bureaucrats of the Ministry of Trade and Industry—naturally they know nothing about the job. Yet they are authorized to control many of the things involved with the inspections of nuclear power plant construction. Nothing can go ahead without their authorization, but they know nothing about how to inspect, merely coming to see the sites. Still, they are powerful. They order around the electric power companies, and the electric power companies order around the nuclear reactor manufacturers such as Hitachi, Toshiba, and Mitsubishi (by the way I worked for Hitachi). Then, the manufacturers order around the construction companies. Of all of them, only the manufacturers know anything, and only the manufacturers are capable of dealing with those problems resulting from an accident at a plant.

As a working engineer and also as a retired one, I have long argued that an agency whose job it is to inspect the plants must be independent from both the ministries and the companies. This is especially true when it is the Ministry of Trade and Industry who is promoting that nuclear power plant—it is unacceptable that retired bureaucrats should be employed to do this job. The inspectors must be real professionals who have experience at these sites in order to, for example, construct pipelines, or notice that there has been inadequate welding, or a that a compromising situation has been overlooked. I have strongly argued this, but nothing has changed. Thus, Japan’s nuclear power plant policies remain too irresponsible and too ineffective.

Nuclear power plants are not designed to resist earthquakes.

I was surprised when in September the authorities, having reviewed the design of all Japanese nuclear power plants following the Great Hanshin Earthquake, claimed that all of the plants would be able to withstand any sort of earthquake. As far as I know, the early nuclear power plants I was involved with were not seriously designed to resist earthquakes. It is unbelievable that all of them, including those older ones, were asserted to be safe. In 1993, the No. 1 reactor at the Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant felt a level 4 earthquake on Japanese seismic intensity scale, and suddenly heated up to an unusual degree, before halting the operation automatically. This was a serious accident. It was serious because the reactor is supposed to halt its operation automatically only when it feels a level 5 or higher. In 1984 the reactor was improved for this operating procedure, but it still ceased operation when it should not have. It is similar to driving on a highway when your wheels are suddenly locked, without ever having even touched the brakes. The Tohoku Electric Power Company explained that everything was fine because the operation was halted, but reality is less simplistic. The fact that the reactor was supposed to stop the operation at level 5 but actually did so at level 4, means that it could not have done so at level 5. It is evident that it is unable to work as planned.

In 1987 at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, there was a similar incident when a reactor stopped operating in a standard fashion, and there are 10 reactors of this type are currently operating in Japan. We should be horrified about how earthquakes can affect the plants.

Unskilled workers perform the checkups on the plants.    

In order to be inspected and fixed thoroughly, every reactor is obliged to suspend operations. A routine check-up is required after it has been in service for one year or so. The pressure inside a reactor is 70 times, or even 150 times as high as the natural atmosphere. The water running through the pipelines is 300 degrees Celsius. The water and the steam are strong enough partly to erode one-half the thickness of the pipe. These damaged pipes and valves are replaced during the check-up. In order for workers to do so, they must be exposed to radiation.

A reactor has been filled with radioactive materials and radiation during its operation and there is no option but for workers inside of it to be exposed to radiation. So a worker must change into a radiation-protective suit before going onto the site. This radiation-protective suit does not, contrary to its name, protect the body from radiation. A radiation alarm meter is attached to the inner vest, but not to the outside of the suit, showing that the suit does not protect the body. They wear this simply so as not to bring radioactive materials outside of the site. Therefore once they’ve finished the job, they are inspected for radiation before being allowed to leave, wearing nothing but their underpants. A shower can wash the radioactive materials on the surface of the body away, and so they are washed thoroughly until no radiation is detected.

The protective shoes provided do not fit the worker’s feet. They can neither firmly stand nor move around satisfactorily, making it difficult for them to work. They often also wear a full face mask so as not to inhale radioactive materials. They are always anxious about radiation, and under such conditions the workers are physically and psychologically affected. They can never fully perform to the best of their abilities. This workplace is quite unusual.

Moreover, 95 percent of the workers are utterly unskilled. They are either farmers or fishermen, who are free in winter. Though I do not mean to offend, they are only temporary workers. They fear nothing, because they do not know anything.

Bolts and screws must be fastened in a certain order—we call it a “diagonal” order—or they will leak later on. It is difficult to follow through on such instruction, whilst in the middle of what the law terms the worst place to work; a radiation area, filled with radiation. An alarm meter is set according to where a worker is set to be, and as every corner has its own radiation level each workplace has its own individual radiation limit by minute.

The duration of work depends on how much radiation one is allowed to be exposed per day. When one is in an area that allows for 20 minutes of work, the alarm meter is set accordingly, and he is informed when his time is up. He is told to get out of there immediately when his alarm goes off. The problem is that there is no clock in his work area, and he does not wear a watch because if it is carried in, it will be polluted. He has to guess how much time has passed.

The process is like this: while he is fastening the bolts and screws, his thoughts are only with how long he has been in there. The sound of his alarm meter is horrible. Someone who has never heard it one before would be appalled by its loud sound, and I cannot really tell you, someone who has never heard it, of the fear that it induces. It is this sound that tells him that he has already been exposed to as much radiation as if tens of X-ray images had been taken during that short period. He may have managed to fasten bolts and screws anyway, but chances are he has not followed the “diagonal” order. The work has been compromised. And now, what will happen next?

Radioactive material is continuously discharged into the sea.

Regular check-ups usually take place in winter. After it is done, tons of the water containing radioactive materials is discharged into the sea. I can tell you, that few fish captured around the Japanese Archipelago are safe to be eaten. Japan’s seas are polluted by radioactive material.
It is not only after regular check-ups that polluted water is dumped. Nuclear power plants generate enormous heat, and so they always have to cool themselves down. In Japan seawater is used for this purpose, and in every minute that goes by, tons of hot water contaminated with radioactive material is returned to the sea.

Despite this, prefectural governments still declare it to be safe for the residents, even after an accident occurs at a nuclear power plant in their area. The electric power companies are even more enthusiastic to hide things than the governments are. The people are merely disinterested. So, the seas continue to be polluted.

The protective gear polluted by radioactive material is first washed in water, and then this water is also dumped into the sea. Incredibly high levels of radiation are detected at a nuclear power plant’s water exit, and this is where fish are farmed. Those who care about food safety should know this, and be more interested in nuclear power plants. I believe that if things keep going like this, we will be left with no choice other than to eat polluted food.

Several years ago, at a meeting of the plaintiffs who demanded that the Shika Nuclear Power Plant halt its operations, a woman who looked nearly 80 years old told us her story, “I didn’t know anything about the nuclear power plant. But today a young housewife who always bought from me said that today would be the last time she’d buy my seaweed because the Shika Nuclear Power Plant was becoming operational. I know nothing about the plant, but at the end of the day, what it means to me…What can I do?” She was bewildered. Japan’s seas continue to be polluted, and you do not understand the ramifications at all.

Internal exposure is the most dangerous.

Everything inside the building housing the reactor becomes radioactive, which means that it becomes a source of radiation, and no matter how thick the steel is, radiation is still capable of passing through it. External exposure, which means radiation striking the outside of our body, is dangerous. But, an internal one is much more so.

Dust is found everywhere throughout our everyday life. In a nuclear power plant, this dust turns into radioactive particles, which flow through the atmosphere. Internal exposure occurs, when radioactive dust is inhaled through the mouth or the nose. One experiences internal exposure mostly whilst cleaning the inside of the reactor. This exposure to radiation from inside the body is more dangerous than external exposure, because there is no distance between the radioactive material and the body.

It usually takes about 3 days for the radioactive materials that have been ingested, to be excreted in urine or sweat. They remain inside the body at least for 3 days. The law ignores that these material’s radiation is never reduced to zero. No matter how tiny the material is that was left, what remains is extremely dangerous because it accumulates inside the body.

Those who have visited a nuclear facility may know this, those areas made open to the public are very clean—as any plant official will proudly state to its visitors. It has to be, or harmful radioactive dust flows into the atmosphere.

I experienced inner exposure more than 100 times, and finally got cancer. When I was notified about my disease, I feared death, and did not know what to do. Remembering that my mother repeatedly told me, that death was the biggest event in one’s life, I was determined to do something before my own death; this meant revealing everything I know about nuclear power plants.

An extremely dangerous workplace

Radioactive material accumulates inside the body. A decade of continuous intake of tiny amount of radioactive materials will do harm. But Japanese law allows a worker to be exposed to less than 50 millisieverts of radiation per year.

A periodic regular check-up takes about 3 months. So 50 millisieverts divided by 90 days is a day’s limitation for those who work during the period. But, some high radiation areas allow a worker to work only 5 or 7 minutes per day. That is an impossible task, so the workers are sometimes forced to be exposed to radiation of 3 days, or one week, at once. In that way workers can work 10 or 20 minutes in a day, and this must not be allowed. At the very least the workers should know that working that way will increase the possibility they will get cancer or leukemia, but the electric power companies do not tell this to them.

One day a big screw in an operational reactor was accidentally loosened. 30 workers were called in to fasten this one screw because of the extremely high level of radiation from an operating reactor. They stood in line, and with, “Get set, ready, go!” ran 7 meters in towards the screw. Getting there, they had no time to count until 3 before the alarm meter beeped. Some of them even could not reach the spanner. To fasten a screw a little, took the labour equivalent of 160 workers, and about 4 million yen.

You might ask why the operations were not suspended during the repair. The electric power company would have lost billions yen if it had suspended the operations. Knowing the danger of radiation, the company prioritized money over its worker’s lives.

Brainwashing the workers

The authorities specifically classify those people who deal with radiation, including nuclear power plant workers. The number of those people in Japan is approximately 270 thousand in total. The majority are nuclear power plant workers. At this moment, 90 thousand people are working there. The annual check-up on a plant cannot be done without exposing these people to radiation every day.

A 5-hour instruction is given to first-time workers, and it aims to eliminate the worker’s anxiety. It never says that the nuclear power plants are dangerous, instead it tells them not to worry because it controls the amount of radiation that the workers are exposed to. Those who oppose nuclear power plants are simply lying, and as long as the workers follow the state government’s guidelines they will be absolutely safe. For 5 hours, the workers are brainwashed in this way.
The electric power companies do this to the local residents as well. The companies invite celebrities to give lectures, give cooking classes with local cultural groups, and distribute beautifully coloured pamphlets by inserting into newspapers. This brainwashing makes people believe that they need nuclear power plants, or that without them they would be short of electricity. Unnerving news of accidents may not change their minds.

As a manager, I have brainwashed workers for nearly 20 years. What I’ve done is no less than what Shoko Asahara and his Aum sect have done. I might very well be accountable for many deaths. I am often asked whether the workers are anxious. I can tell you that most of them are not, because they know nothing about the danger of radiation and exposure. Even when they get sick, they do not think that it is because of their job. All of them are exposed to radiation every day, but a manager has to hide this fact from the workers and the public, or he is deemed incompetent. This is the reality of the nuclear power plant workplace.

Having long felt guilty every day, night after night, I gradually became dependent upon alcohol. I have long asked myself, for what, for whom, do I have to keep lying every day? Then one day, I realized that my 20 years of radiation exposure had also destroyed my body.

No one can deal with a serious accident.

One day at TEPCO’s Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, a worker’s forehead was seriously injured by a grinding machine. He was spewing blood, there was no time to waste, and so an ambulance immediately carried him out. However, he was contaminated with radioactive material. TEPCO had no time to take off his protective suit, nor to wash his body. The rescuers had no knowledge about radioactive contamination, and so he was left contaminated during his treatment at the hospital. The rescuers, the ambulance, the doctor, the nurses, and the patients those nurses touched, all were contaminated. The patients spread the contamination out the hospital. The whole town panicked. Everyone had been so busy dealing with the injury, and radioactive material is of course invisible, so no one was aware that he was contaminated.

It is difficult to deal with one person, what could we do if a serious accident contaminated that many residents? It’s unimaginable. Think about this: it could affect every person in this country.

A severe accident occurred at the Mihama Nuclear Power Plant in 1991.

In fact, many incredibly serious accidents have occurred at Japan’s nuclear power plants but people do not know about them, or are simply just not interested. These accidents were no less serious than Three Mile Island or Chernobyl. In fact, nothing akin to the TEPCO Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Plant’s shattered coolant pump in 1989 has ever occurred at a nuclear facility in any other country in the world.

Again, in February, 1991, a coolant tube ruptured at the Kansai Electric Power Company’s Mihama Nuclear Power Plant, spewing large amounts of radioactive materials into the atmosphere and the sea.

I was not really surprised by the Chernobyl accident. Involved as I was in building the Japanese plants, I knew this would eventually happen. I thought it merely a coincidence that it took place in Chernobyl, rather than in Japan. But, the Mihama Nuclear Power Plant’s accident stunned me. I literally shook in the chair, and I was unable to stand up.

The accident was serious because it required the operation of the emergency core cooling system (ECCS) to be performed manually. The ECCS is the last fortress for the plant, and prevents it from shifting out of control. If it did not work, we were done for; having to use the ECCS was that serious. It was like a bus travelling at 100 kilometres per hour carrying more than one hundred million people on a highway, when both the brake and the hand fails and the driver must crash into rock wall in order to stop.

The coolant—that contaminated water—had leaked into the sea, and without that water the reactor was on the verge of heating up. All those safety valves that Japan is so proud of did not work, and it would have taken only 0.7 seconds to create a second Chernobyl. It was a Saturday, but luckily an experienced operator was there, and he realized that the ECCS was not working automatically, and so operated it manually. The accident did not affect the world, all Japanese people, as well as every person in the world, was lucky.

The metal fittings which supported thousands of coolant tubes 2 millimetres across, preventing them from hitting each other if they were shaken, were not fixed as planned, and that caused the accident. This error was made during construction, and nearly 20 years of regular check-ups failed to find it. It revealed how ineffective the inspections were. The designer would have been surprised at hearing that it was normal procedure for the builders to cut and stretch parts at the site when the parts were not fixed properly. The accident revealed that the builders were not being precise.

The serious accident of Monju: the fast breeder reactor

On December 8, 1995 a serious accident, a sodium leak, took place at Monju in Tsuruga City in the Fukui Prefecture which was operated by the Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation (PNC). Monju had already had many accidents before, and I had visited there 6 times during the construction. Though I am retired, I still advise my former colleagues—they are the head, managers, and engineers, working there—when they are in trouble. I do so because an accident of at a nuclear power plant may cause irreversible damage. I cannot help but help them.

One day, they rang me from the construction site. They were in trouble because they could not join the pipes and did not know why. I went over the plans and the pipes: some of them were ready-made, the others specially made for the plant, but all of them were precisely made according to the plans. I thought all night long, and I finally figured out what was wrong; Monju was being built by multiple manufacturers (such as Hitachi, Toshiba, Mitsubishi, Fuji Electric, and others) each with very different planning styles.

They were not all using the same type of rounding: Hitachi, which I worked for, rounded half a millimeter down, Toshiba and Hitachi half a millimeter up, Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute half a millimeter down. It was just half a millimeter, but 100 of half a millimeter might have created a significant error. That was why the pipes perfectly made according to plans did not join together.

I demanded that they make the pipes all over again. No matter how much it cost, a state-backed project like this would be able to pay.

These companies were not willing to share their knowledge and secrets, and because of this they did not have a standard for rounding. I suspect that something similar had happened to the thermowell, causing the accident.

Every plant has thermowells like that, but I had never seen such a long one before. Someone might have known this could be dangerous. But, such a person would be likely to ignore that, if his company was not in charge of that specific part.

The PNC is led by those loaned officials from the electric power companies. The manufacturers are undisciplined as well; they have many heads, but no brains. No wonder accidents occur; it would be a miracle if nothing happened.

The government never calls it an accident, even when a serious one occurs. The announcement goes like this, “something happened at Monju.” They said this as well when the serious accident took place at the Mihama Nuclear Power Plant. After this accident, I met the local lawmakers of Fukui Prefecture, which has 15 reactors. Those members of the local ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers had invited this. I always told them that it would be them, and not the opposition, who would be held accountable should an accident occur. They finally decided to fight against the PNC and asked me how to go about it.

I first told the lawmakers to take what the officials called something happened, and declare it a serious accident. Later on I watched as the TV streamed their jeers of, “a serious accident!,” when a PNC official started explaining by saying that, “something happened…” at the prefectural assembly. The officials always downplay how serious an accident is. All of us, not just local residents, can be cheated by such a wording.

People cannot usually know significance of an accident when simply told that something has happened. The government always downplays accidents, and Japanese people have no idea how serious an accident at a nuclear power plant really is.

Is Japan’s plutonium France’s nuclear weapons?

Japan’s spent fuel is reprocessed in France, and then the extracted plutonium is used at Monju, plutonium can only be made artificially.

14 tons of plutonium is used at Monju. I heard that the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki was made of about 8 kilograms of plutonium. How many bombs can be made with Monju’s plutonium? It is highly toxic, a tiny dose of it is capable of causing lung cancer, and it has a 24,000-year half-life. It will remain radioactive eternally. Named after Pluto, the ruler of hell, it is labelled the most toxic material in the world.

Few know however, that Japan’s plutonium could have been used for French nuclear testing in the South Pacific in 1995. France’s reprocessing plant creates the plutonium for military use as well as that necessary for the plants, equally. Therefore, Japan’s spent fuel was likely to become a French nuclear weapon.

That was why Japan could not strongly condemn France’s test. If Japan had seriously wanted to stop France’s test, it would have been easy, Japan could have suspended the reprocessing contract. Yet, Japan did not.

The reprocessing marks the second highest trade value between France and Japan. The many Japanese people against nuclear testing should know that, contrary to what is often said, Japan is not the only victim of nuclear weaponry. We should think about the fact that it is our plutonium poisoning the Tahitians and their beautiful sea.

The generation of electricity with plutonium has been given up everywhere in the world, except in Japan. Japan is even trying to use MOX fuel, in which plutonium is blended with uranium in the conventional reactors, but this is very dangerous. Simply put, it is like burning gasoline in a kerosene heater, conventional reactors are not designed for burning plutonium. It makes better weapons because of the higher energy generated by the nuclear fission of plutonium rather than by that of uranium.

Japan may have no natural resources, but they still do horrible things. We must stop the nuclear power plants and also the use of plutonium, or we will continue to create more victims.

Too cowardly to give up

The era of nuclear power plant is over. America, the forerunning user of nuclear power, announced in February, 1996, that it would reduce its nuclear power plants by half by 2015. The American president banned plutonium research, studying it was horrible enough.

Fast breeder reactors, (the likes of Monju) which use plutonium, were given up in America, Britain, and Germany. Though Germany had completed the construction of a plant of this type, it eventually gave up operating it, and then turned it into a resort park. All the countries know it is impossible to generate electricity by using plutonium. Now the Japanese government must also regret having built Monju, which keeps failing to operate, yet they cannot give up.

Japan has always been too cowardly to give up when it fails. I fear this cowardice a lot, we must learn from our history.

Japan’s nuclear policies go nowhere. To begin with they did not think of the future at all when they began. Wishing that everything would be fine someday, Japan has wasted decades and still does not know what to do with even the spent fuel.

And it is getting worse. No students these days major in nuclear power engineering, young people do not see the future in this industry. Universities used to have a department of nuclear power engineering, but now they are almost completely gone, even from Tokyo University. We are losing experts.

Two-thirds of the engineers who specialized in nuclear power at Hitachi and Toshiba have left for co-generation gas turbine, which is more efficient technology by utilizing electricity and heat at the same time. Even the manufactures see nuclear power as hopeless.

In his book, Takehisa Shimamura the former head of Japan Nuclear Energy Commission wrote that, “while the Japanese government is tries to make up its own story, there is no electricity shortage. It maintains its nuclear policies simply because it has brainlessly ended up with excessive uranium and plutonium. The world gives this burden to Japan because we never say no. Now, in an attempt not to be thought of as building nuclear weapons, Japan opts for a peaceful use of nuclear power, which means relentlessly building nuclear power plants everywhere.” This is the reality of Japan.

You cannot simply scrap them.

In 1966, Japan imported a 160 thousand kilowatts commercial nuclear reactor from Britain, and so the first reactor became operational in Tokai Village. Since then Japan has imported reactors from America, and then started building them on its own. Now 51 reactors, including a huge 135 million kilowatts reactor, are in operation on such a small land.

Despite not knowing how to scrap them or what to do with spent fuel, Japan started operation anyway. These reactors would inevitably become unusable because of their continued exposure to huge amounts of radiation, regardless of having been built of thick iron. At first it was said that the life of a reactor was 10 years, and planned to decommission and dismantle them accordingly. But in 1981, we learned that it was impossible to decommission and dismantle the 10-year-old No. 1 reactor of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant run by TEPCO as planned. This became a contentious topic debated by the National Diet of Japan. The lawmakers questioned whether the reactor could withstand the nuclear reaction.

At that time, I joined into the discussions everyday about how to decommission and dismantle the reactor. We found that it would cost more to decommission and dismantle it than to construct. In addition we found that decommissioning and dismantling the higher toxic reactor would entail exposing the workers to high doses of radiation. There was nothing we could do, workers could be in the reactor for only 10 seconds or so, according to guidelines.

It is humans, not theory, who do things that expose them to high doses of radiation. We can do nothing until the radioactive material is reduced to zero. We cannot decommission and dismantle the reactors as long as they are toxic. Some say that robots could do these things, but though it has been researched, so far robots are not useful because radioactive material breaks them down.

We apparently abandoned the plan to dismantle Fukushima Plant’s reactor, and the American manufacturer who had sold us the reactor sent their workers to improve it. Those workers from America were exposed to incredibly high doses of radiation such as Japanese guidelines do not allow Japanese workers. This reactor is still in operation.

There are 11 reactors whose lives were said to be 10 years once they had become operational, which have instead been working for nearly 30 years. I am really worried about those tired reactors.

There is a small 100 kilowatts research reactor at Musashi Institute of Technology in Kawasaki City, Kanagawa Prefecture, which suspended its operation after it leaked radioactive material. It was estimated that fixing this reactor would cost 2 billion yen, and scrapping it would cost 6 billion yen. The whole annual budget of the institute could not be used to scrap it. This reactor has to stop its operation first, and then be maintained until radioactive material disappears.
This is no way to deal with a huge 1 million kilowatts reactor.

Close it, and keep an eye on it.

Why is it so impossible to decommission and dismantle a nuclear power plant? Well, water and steam circulate in an operating reactor. However once the reactor ceases to operate, the water will soon rust it out, causing it to leak radioactive material. Once a reactor is put into operation, radioactive materials contaminate it. It can neither be dismantled, nor simply be left inactive.

Developed countries have already closed many of their reactors. They are closed, and not yet scrapped. Closure means that those reactors are no longer generating electricity, and that the fuel is taken out. But there are still many things left to do.

A closed reactor, which is contaminated with radioactive materials, has to keep moving and circulating water, like it did when it generated electricity. Water pressure erodes the pipes and breaks some parts; it must be regularly checked over, or it will leak radioactive material. It has to keep being watched and maintained, just like when it was in operation, and until radioactive material will disappear.

There are 51 reactors in operation and 3 under construction in Japan. Some of them are too dangerous to be operated any longer. Additionally, universities and some companies have their own research reactors. At this moment, there are a total of 76 reactors, ranging from small 100 kilowatts reactors, to huge 135 million kilowatts facilities.

Whether the electric power companies are willing to take care of closed reactors, no longer productive or profitable, is questionable. But those companies are still planning to build more plants and reactors. Their plans include building a No. 5 reactor at the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant, located in an area where a huge earthquake is predicted, and feared to occur. Fukushima Prefecture will get more reactors in exchange of a football stadium. They are trying to build more new plants: the Makimachi Plant in Niigata Prefecture, the Ashihama in Mie Prefecture, the Kaminoseki in Yamaguchi Prefecture, the Suzu in Ishikawa Prefecture, the Oma and the Higashidori in Aomori Prefecture, and so on. Japan aims to have 70 or 80 reactors by 2010. No offence, but Japan is insane.

In the future, we will face the serious problem of having to close those reactors. Sooner or later, those closed nuclear plants will take over everywhere across Japan. It is quite chilling.

What to do with the spent fuel?

Every day, those reactors in operation inevitably produce spent fuel. It is called low level radioactive waste, but if you stand by some of the containers filled with this waste for 5 hours, you will be exposed to a fatal dose of radiation. The nuclear power plants across Japan have so far produced more than 800 thousand containers filled with this radioactive waste.
Until 1969, radioactive waste was first contained in containers, and then thrown into home waters, it was normal at that time. Around that time I was working at the Tokai Nuclear Power Plant in Ibaraki Prefecture; tracks carrying contained waste left from there for the sea, and then boats carried them to be dumped offshore of Chiba Prefecture.

It was then, that I started thinking that there might be something wrong with the nuclear power plant. These containers will decompose within a year in water, and then what happens to the waste? Are the fish safe?

At this time, the waste from the nuclear power plants is collected in Rokkasho Village, in the Aomori Prefecture. The plan is that the 300 million containers filled with waste will be managed for 300 years. I am not sure whether the containers will be intact, or whether the company that takes care of the waste will still exist, 300 years from now.

We also have high level radioactive waste. This is what is left after plutonium has been extracted from spent fuel, which companies in Britain and France then reprocess. In 1995, 28 containers filled with high level radioactive waste returned from France to Japan. Melted high level waste and glass were mixed together and poured into steel containers. It is said that if you stand next to this container for 2 minutes, you will die. The plan is to keep cooling those containers down for 30 or 50 years somewhere in Rokkasho Village, and then to bury them somewhere deeper underground. Yet the location for burial has not been decided. Similar plans exist in other countries, but none of them has actually disposed of high level waste. Every country is in trouble.

Finally, we have those reactors themselves. The government says simply that closed reactors will be concealed for 5 or 10 years, before being broken down to debris and enclosed into containers to be buried under their own sites. However, one reactor produce tens of thousands of tons of waste contaminated with radioactive material. Even now we are in trouble because of our ordinary garbage. How can we deal with all this radioactive waste, which is likely to take over all of Japan? We must do something, but first we must stop the nuclear power plants as soon as possible.
About 5 years ago, I was giving a lecture in Hokkaido. When I said we must keep cooling down the waste for 50 years, and then monitoring it for 300 years, a junior high school girl interrupted me and cried, “who will do it? You say it will take 50 or 300 years. You adults cannot do it. It’s our generation and the next generations who will do it. But we don’t want to do it!” Which of us adults can find an answer for her?

Moreover, it is not just about 50, or 300 years. So long as nuclear power plants are in operation, those years may never come.

Nearby residents are exposed to radiation and discriminated against.

The government and the industry have kept lying to us for decades, saying that no radioactive materials have ever been leaked by Japan’s nuclear power plants. They can no longer do so. Radioactive materials are disgorged from the tall cooling towers intentionally. Radioactive materials are spewed constantly, so those nearby residents are constantly exposed to radiation.
A 23-year-old woman wrote to me, her letter appeared to be smudged by tears. It went like this, “I began my career and met a man in Tokyo. We were engaged, and our families met and exchanged engagement gifts. But this man has suddenly broken our engagement. He says that nothing is wrong with me and he wanted to marry me, but his parents were worried because I had lived in Tsuruga City for more than 10 years. As children near the nuclear power plant tend to be born with leukemia, they were afraid that they would have a grandchild with leukemia. His parents do not agree with him. What’s wrong with me?” Of course, there is nothing wrong with her. I sometimes hear these kinds of stories.

This happened in Tokyo, but not in some of the areas near the plants. Frankly, are you happy if your daughter marries a nuclear power plant worker? Or, would you want to marry such a worker? I know that it is insensitive to say this, that it is discrimination. But I argue that we must talk about these kinds of stories. Those standing opposed to nuclear power plants should say that they are not only protesting because horrible accidents can occur, but also because it causes discrimination. These nuclear power plants are also destroying our minds.

Can I have a baby? I don’t care about electricity. I hate the nuclear power plant.

I am going to talk about a story about what happened during my lecture hosted by the Teachers Union in Kyowa Town, which was located near the Tomari Nuclear Power Plant in Hokkaido. I ask that you remember this sometime; you can forget the rest.

The meeting took place in the evening. Half of the audience were parents, and the other half was made up of teachers, but some high school and junior high school students also showed up. They did not take a view such that nuclear power plants were only an adult problem, but rather their problem as well.

Finishing my talk, I took some questions. An 8 grade girl, crying, spoke to us, “you adults are liars, hypocrites. I came here to face you all. I wanted to know who you are. You say you are against pesticides, golf courses, and nuclear power plants. You say you do so for your children. I’m sure you’re just pretending to act against all this. I live in Kyowa Town, near the Tomari nuclear power plant, and I’ve been exposed to radiation. The ratio of babies with leukemia is higher around nuclear facilities in Sellafield, England, than in other places. I know this because I read a book. I’m a girl, and I will probably marry someday. Is it ok for me to have a baby?” No one had an answer for her.

“If a nuclear power plant is that horrible, why didn’t you all go against it more seriously when they started building it? You even allowed them to build a No. 2 reactor. I don’t care about electricity. I hate the nuclear power plant.” The No. 2 reactor of the Tomari Nuclear Power Plant had just been put into operational testing.

“For what reason are you meeting here? If I was an adult and I had a baby, I’d use violence to stop it. I wouldn’t hesitate to risk my own life.

“The radiation I’m exposed to is now doubled because of this second reactor, but I won’t leave Hokkaido.”

I asked her if she had ever talked about her anxiety to her mother or teacher. “My mother and teacher are here now, but I’ve never brought this up before,” she said. “We girls always talk about this. We can’t marry. We can’t have a baby.”

I was told that their teachers did not know that they thought this way

An evacuation drill for residents living within 8 or 10-kilometer radius will not solve this anxiety. People 50, or 100 kilometres away from a nuclear power plant are also anxious. You should know that adolescents react to this anxiety vividly.

As long as there are nuclear power plants, we do not feel safe.

Now you know what nuclear power plant is.

You might have heard of the horror of the Chernobyl Accident and felt a little anxious. Yet, you may still think we still need those nuclear power plants, that without them we would have an electricity shortage. It is especially those who live in cities, distanced from these plants, who might still view them as a necessary evil.

However, that is because you were always told by the government and the electric power companies about the “peaceful use of nuclear power,” that it is “absolutely safe,” and that “Japan has no natural resources.” They spend huge amount of money for this propaganda. They hide, for example, the Monju Accident.

The nuclear power plants generate electricity, but the thing is that they cannot work without exposing plant workers to radiation. That is what I have seen and experienced for 20 years. Moreover, nuclear power plants destroy local communities. When one is built, it divides the residents into two camps, and when it is put into operation, it exposes those residents to radiation and opens innocent people up to discrimination.

You may know that a nuclear power plant can cause a horrible accident and still think that it is really safe, that everything will be fine. You may agree with the possibility of peaceful uses for nuclear power. But think about this: the workers are dying of exposure and the residents are suffering—you cannot call this peaceful use. Even if it was safe, you could not feel safe. You can never feel safe as long as it exists.

Moreover at this moment, nuclear power plants appear to generate electricity. However, in order to manage radioactive waste for tens of thousands of years, it needs much more electricity and oil. The energy needed to manage that waste must be higher than the energy that the plants have been generating. Additionally, it will be our children and grandchildren who manage the waste and the closed reactors.

How can you say that this is peaceful use of nuclear power? I repeat. There is never a peaceful use.

Therefore I ask you; please look at the face of your children and grandchildren every morning and ask yourself, why. Why is only Japan still building nuclear power plants? There are accidents, and earthquakes. If we do not act now, irreversible damage will be done, you must see this.

So I am acting against these nuclear power plants. I am absolutely against building new ones, and I argue that those plants in operation must be stopped.

As long as those nuclear power plants exist, there is no peace.

A peaceful planet for children

Translator’s note:
The original text (in Japanese) is here:
This site says the author Norio Hirai was an engineer specializing in plant pipeline, and died in January, 1997.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. No Nuclear Action/ Bay Area permalink
    May 27, 2011 1:36 am

    Thank you so so much for the translation! In Solidarity from Todos Somos Japan Collective + Fermenting Japan + No Nuclear Action Committee of Bay Area!

  2. June 17, 2012 2:58 pm

    Humans and nuclear power are absolutely non-compatible.
    Thanks to the translators of this piece,maybe Fukushima triple meltdown will be the catalyst that brings everybody back to using their common sense,hopefully it won’t be a fire in the fuel pool at the number 4 reactor that eventually causes action.
    Take action to make nuclear electricity obsolete by installing solar panels,germany generated 20 nuclear power stations worth of solar power works and although expensive ,unlike nuclear it does not cost the earth.
    Don’t expect the Japanese government to vote themselves out of their retirement jobs.
    People must learn to bypass their corrupt governments.


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