Thursday, March 24, 2011

European nuclear safety after the Japanese Fukushima disaster

As Japan is situated on several fault lines, the Japanese are familiar with earthquakes and tsunami's. However, the earthquake-proof buildings and tsunami walls near the Japanese coastlines couldn't withstand an earthquake and tsunami as powerful as the Tōhoku natural disaster. On Friday 11 March 2011, Japan was struck by a devastating earthquake and tsunami, also known as the Tōhoku earthquake. It is the most powerful known earthquake that has ever hit Japan since earthquakes have been recorded in the modern scientific way for the first time in 1900. The Tōhoku earthquake is also one of the five most powerful earthquakes in the world [1].

The 9.0-magnitude offshore earthquake had an epicenter 72 km east of the coast of the Oshika Peninsula of Tōhoku, Japan and an underwater hypocenter at a depth of approximately 32 km. Minutes after the undersea earthquake struck Japan, huge tsunami waves of up to 23.6 m engulfed the Tōhoku region, destroying numerous cities and towns in its entirety. The higly destructive tsunami waves traveled up to 10 km inland. The earthquake and tsunami led to many thousands of victims, flooding, landslides, building and infrastructure damage, serious nuclear incidents, making it the most expensive natural disaster on record [2].

Prime Minister Naoto Kan called the natural calamity the "toughest and the most difficult crisis for Japan"[3]. Due to the earthquake and tsunami several of Japan's nuclear plants situated in the affected area were damaged severely. Fukushima I, II, Onogawa Nuclear Power Plant and Tokai nuclear power stations were automatically shut down after the quake [4]. However, the tsunami destroyed the back-up diesel generators of the plants needed to cool down the nuclear core reactor of the plant. In order to stop overheating, possible explosions, further leakage of nuclear material and the risk of nuclear radiation, sea water was taken to the plants for cooling down the reactors. But because sea water could damage the machinery, it was eventually decided that freshwater was needed for the nuclear plants to cool down the reactors.

Originally, people living in the area of the nuclear power plants were advised to stay indoors to avoid radiation. Eventually many people from that area needed to be evacuated [5].

Unfortunately, so far the Japanese have not been able to contain the situation in the powerplants. Explosions at a power plant led to radiation and a partial meltdown. Plutonium was found leaking from the Fukushima Daiichi atomic power plant and well as highly radioactive water [6]. According to Sakae Muto, the vice-president of Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), the level of plutonium is "not at the level that's harmful to human health"[7]. Seawater near Fukushima I also contained radioactive material [8].

reenpeace has also investigated the area surrounding the power plants and based on its radiation measurements the organisation suggests a further extending of the evacuation area surrounding the Fukushima power plant [9].

Japanese people avoid eating fish and foods that originate from the nuclear plants area and surroundings. It is feared that the radioactive material will be hazardous to both human and animal life and that it will contaminate the environment. Radioactive iodine and cesium were found in spinach and milk as well as other food products in the region of the Fukushima nuclear power plants on Saturday.

The Japanese government is taking precautions, such as banning shipments of certain produce from Fukushima and neighboring prefectures Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma [10]. According to the WHO the radiation of food is a serious problem. Peter Cordingley, a spokesman of the WHO said: "It's a lot more serious than anybody thought in the early days when we thought that this kind of problem can be limited to 20 to 30 kilometers" [11]. He stated that at the moment it is rather difficult to know whether the radioactive material found in some food in Japan originated from the Daiichi power plant [12].

Before the nuclear crisis in Japan there was a large nuclear accident in 1979 at the the USA Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station and in 1986 the Chernobyl disaster took place in Ukraine due to major design deficiencies, a lack of safety and the violation of operating procedures [13]. The nuclear catastrophy in Japan raises questions about the possible impact of nuclear energy industry on safety and health. Several European countries have discussed the use of nuclear energy and safety measures or have temporarily shut down nuclear reactors since the Japanese earthquake of 11 March 2011.

The European Union is developing a stress test for European nuclear power plants [14]. European countries are considering how safe nuclear power stations are but the difference between European countries and Japan - Europe is not as geologically active as Japan - has been taken into account [15]. During a meeting in Brussels with all other European ministers of Environment, Austrian Minister of Environment Nikolaus Berlakovich called for a security check of all european nuclear power plants: "The people in Europe and Austria ask themselves how secure are our reactors in Europe, around Austria [...] It must be quickly proven how earthquake-proof the nuclear power stations are, how do the cooling systems work, what is the reactors' protection. That must come quickly to reassure the people" [16].

Slovak Environment Minister Jozsef Nagy would regard a stress test for all European power plants as a milestone for nuclear energy: "[...] this might be a milestone in nuclear energy, so we will learn and introduce technologies that are resilient to similar, or even stronger, natural events." [17] German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a safety review of all nuclear reactors and the provisional shut-down of 7 ageing reactors. During this period premiers of German Federations will also discuss renewable energies, international safety standards for nuclear power and what to do with radioactive waste. [18] A survey by German broadcaster ARD made clear that many Germans worry about the safety of nuclear energy. 53 % of the respondents of the survey stressed that all nuclear reactors should be shut down and 70 of the participants of the review is of the opinion that something similar to the nuclear crisis in Japan could happen in Germany [19].

France has a strong nuclear energy programme; it is France's primary source of energy. France derives over 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy - this the highest percentage of nuclear energy use per country in the world. The USA is the largest producer of nuclear power, accounting for more than 30% of worldwide nuclear generation of electricity) [20]. The situation in Japan has not left France untouched. Since the partial meltdown at Fukushima French left-wing politicians have begun to doubt the reliance of France on nuclear power as a primary energy source [21]. With regard to fear of a nuclear accident like that which occured in Japan, the French environment minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet stressed that Japan's nuclear crisis occurred in "very exceptional circumstances." She urges Europeans not to over-react to the Japanese nuclear crisis: "We shouldn't, at a European level, fall in the indecency of an over-reaction while the crisis in unveiling" [22]. President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy said that all 58 nuclear reactors on French soil would be tested: "were the tests to be failed or to be unsatisfactory we will take all necessary measures, which simply means shutting them down" [23].

Japan's nuclear crisis has so far evoked many questions and worries about the safety of nuclear energy just like the Chernobyl disaster evoked responses in the 1980s. Physicist Leonid A. Bolshov, director of the Institute for Nuclear Safety and Development, formed in 1988 in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster, stated: “The Japanese disaster will give the whole world a lesson [...] After a disaster, a burst of attention to safety follows” [24].

Weblinks Newspapers:

Weblinks International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) & World Nuclear Association (WNA):

Relevant Peace Palace Library Keywords:

Daiichi Nuclear Power Station 170 miles north of Tokyo , Japan

Aflo/European Pressphoto Agency


[1] See 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami,
[2] See Ibid.
[3] As quoted from

[5] See Japan Orders Evacuation Near 2nd Nuclear Plant , The New York Times.
[6] See
Plutonium detected in soil at Fukushima nuke plant, The Mainichi Daily News

[7] As quoted from
Japan finds plutonium at stricken nuclear plant, Reuters.
[8] See Is Japan's Seawater Radiation Spreading?, Time
[9] Japan rejects Greenpeace argument for expanding evacuation zone, Reuters.
[10] As quoted from / see Radiation Found in Japanese Food, Foreign Policy Blogs - Global Food Security.
[11] As quoted from
WHO spokesman: Japan food safety situation "serious", Reuters.
[12] See ibid.
Safety of Nuclear Power Reactors, World Nuclear Association (WNA).

[14] See
Europe split over nuclear safety amid Japan crisis, Reuters.

[15] Ibid.
[16] As quoted from Ibid.
[17] Ibid.
[18] As quoted from Germany shuts down seven reactors,
[19] Ibid.
[20] As quoted from Nuclear Power in France, and Nuclear Power in the USA, World Nuclear Association.
Europe split over nuclear safety amid Japan crisis, Reuters.
[22] As quoted from ibid.
[23] As quoted from
Europe to Test Safety of Nuclear Reactors, The New York Times

[24] As quoted from Nuclear Industry in Russia Sells Safety, Taught by Chernobyl, The New York Times

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Japan’s nuclear energy policy: energy security versus non-proliferation

Nuclear power dependence
Energy is the "life blood" of any economy, but for Japan, this truism has an added importance. Japan is poor in natural resources, specifically sources of energy, which are so vital to a healthy, modern economy:
- Japan must import over 80% of all primary energy needs;
- Japan obtains only 0.3% of its crude oil supply from domestic sources;
- Japan has very few domestic sources of coal, natural gas, or uranium.

The two oil crises of the 1970s proved that reliance on one particular energy source could greatly undermine stability with regard to energy supplies. The Japanese government sees nuclear power therefore as the most appropriate solution. Nuclear energy is also particularly attractive to Japan because it is environmentally friendly. Contrary to coal, natural gas, and oil-fired generators, nuclear plants produce no harmful emissions. Japan considers nuclear power an important fuel due to its stable supply and potential to alleviate environmental problems like global warming and acid rain.

Energy security
Because of the dependency, energy security is an extremely important issue for resource-poor Japan. Nearly 90 percent of total crude oil supplies come from the Middle East. Nuclear power makes a great contribution to energy security by producing the equivalent of approximately 465 million barrels of oil per year, which corresponds to about 30 percent of annual crude oil imports. Further energy security is supported by the domestic nuclear fuel cycle in which unburned uranium and plutonium are recovered through spent fuel reprocessing to conserve uranium resources. The Japanese government has long held that the establishment of nuclear fuel recycling offers the best prospect of long-term energy security. According to the World Nuclear Association Japan started its nuclear research program in 1954, with 230 million being budgeted for nuclear energy. The Atomic Energy Basic Law, which strictly limits the use of nuclear technology to peaceful purposes, was introduced in 1955. The law aims to ensure that three principles - democratic methods, independent management, and transparency - are the basis of nuclear research activities, as well as promoting international co-operation. Inauguration of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1956 promoted nuclear power development and utilisation. As early as its first long-term plan 1956-1960, the Japanese Science and Technology Agency and the Atomic Energy Commission stated that Japan’s final goal is the implementation of fast breeder nuclear reactors which would eventually provide Japan with an independent indigenous fuel cycle.
The main goals regarding nuclear power are:
- to continue to have nuclear power as a major element of electricity production;
- to recycle uranium and plutonium from used fuel and have reprocessing domestically from 2005;
- steadily to develop fast breeder reactors in order to improve uranium utilisation dramatically;
- to promote nuclear energy to the public, emphasising safety and non-proliferation.

With 55 currently operating commercial nuclear power plants that supply about a third of Japan's electricity needs, Japan's nuclear industry is helping to ensure the long-term strength and viability of the country's economy.

Nuclear safety
The Nuclear & Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) within the Ministry of Economy Trade & Industry is responsible for nuclear power regulation, licensing and safety. It conducts regular inspections of safety-related aspects of all power plants. The NISA is responsible for the safety of test and research reactors, nuclear fuel facilities and radioactive waste management, as well as Research & Development. Because of the frequency and magnitude of earthquakes in Japan, particular attention is paid to seismic issues in the design and construction of nuclear power plants. In May 2007 revised seismic criteria were announced which increased the design basis criteria and required utilities to undertake some reinforcement of older plants.

The Japanese people have a historic deep-seated anti-nuclear sentiment based on the experience of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the subsequent suffering of their citizens. More than 170.000 people died as an immediate result followed by tens of thousands suffering and dying from radiation sickness and other related illnesses. While there is cautious acceptance of the need for nuclear power, the public opinion suggest a deep-seated aversion to nuclear weapons and strong support for their eventual elimination. Because of this public attitude policy makers have implemented a policy on non-proliferation. Japan’s basic Atomic Energy Law prohibits the military use of nuclear energy and successive governments have articulated principles reinforcing this. In 1976 Japan became a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) with its safeguards arrangements administered by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). These safeguards are designed to ensure that nuclear materials for peaceful purposes are not diverted for military use. In 1999 Japan was one of the first countries to ratify the Additional Protocol with IAEA, accepting intrusive inspections.

Publications in the Peace Palace catalogue:
On Japan and energy policy
On Japan and nuclear energy
On Japan and proliferation

Monday, March 14, 2011

Libya and the International Criminal Court (ICC)

On February 16th 2011- following a wave of uprisings throughout the Middle-East- Libya experienced a so-called Day of Rage which led to protests breaking out to challenge Colonel Muammar Qadhafi’s 41 year old iron rule- the region’s longest.
During the following days, protests continued and spread to different cities. On 21st February, the conflict escalated, when the faltering government of Colonel Qadhafi struck back with a level of violence unseen in other parts of the Middle-East, quickly heading towards a humanitarian crisis.

In the wake of these events, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1970 under article 41 Chapter VII of the UN-Charter demanding an end to the violence and imposing a list of sanctions on Libyan authorities. Most important among these is the UN Security Council’s decision to refer the situation in strife-torn Libya to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

Following the adoption of resolution 1970, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon welcomed the Security Council ‘decisive action’. While it cannot, by itself end the violence and the repression, it a vital step – a clear expression of the will of a united community of nations’, he said. [1]
With the referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) , many nations expressed hope that the resolution was a strong step in affirming the responsibility of States to protect their people as well as the legitimate role of the Security Council to step in when they failed to meet that responsibility. [2]
The ICC was established through the Rome Statute, a multilateral treaty that entered into force in 2002. Some 114 members are parties to the Rome Statute, including all member states of the European Union (EU), most countries in South-America and dozens of other states worldwide. In the Middle-East, only Jordan is a party. Some major powers such as China, India, Russia and the United States of America – the latter three being permanent members of the UN Security Council- are not parties to the treaty mainly out of fear for politicized prosecutions of their nationals, including their soldiers.[3]

The support of this resolution is particularly interesting since in 2005, after many years of reports of extreme violence in Darfur, The US and China both abstained from voting to refer the situation to the ICC. [4]
In the case of Libya, the Chinese representative stated that he had supported the resolution taking into account the special circumstances in Libya. Noteworthy is that the US, not only supported the referring of the matter to the ICC but even helped to circulate a draft resolution with the idea. According to some analysts this US enthusiasm can be considered as a step towards greater support for the ICC by the Obama administration. [5]
The representative of Libya stated that the Security Council’s actions represented moral support for his people and was a signal that an end must be put to the fascist regime in Tripoli. He launched an appeal to all the officers of the Libyan armed forces to support their own people and welcome the referral to the ICC, as well as the decision not to impose sanctions on those who might abandon Mr. Al-Qadhafi in the end. [6]
On March 2nd, 2011, merely four days after the adoption of resolution 1970, ICC prosecutor Louis Moreno-Ocampo announced that ‘following a preliminary examination of available evidence’, he reached the conclusion that an investigation is warranted. [7]
The most difficult challenge the ICC will have to face is to secure arrests; without its own police force the ICC must rely on States and the International Community to assist in arrests. While arrests may take time, they are possible with the help of the international community. Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia, was apprehended in Nigeria following a three-year request to arrest him. He is currently on trial and awaiting a verdict at the Special Court of Sierra Leone (SCSL). [8]
Whether or not, Mr. Al-Qadhafi will be arrested and seen in handcuffs in The Hague, these events of the past few weeks demonstrate how the ICC is becoming an important factor in international affairs and its influence may increase even further in the years to come. [9]

[1] Security Council Resolution 1970

[2] Idem
[3] Canadian Free Press



[6]Security Council Resolution 1970

[7] Canadian Free Press

[8] Human Rights Watch Report

[9] Canadian Free Press

Image: The Atlanta Journal Constitution