January 18, 2000
OPEN LETTER TO MAYOR RIICHI IMAI, THE TOWN COUNCIL OF TAKAHAMA AND ALL CITIZENS OF TAKAHAMA:
SAY NO TO PLUTHERMAL (MOX) FUEL FOREVER!
We greatly appreciate the opportunity to have met with many of you during our trip last October to Takahama, including the fruitful exchange of views we had with Mayor Imai. We were greatly impressed by your hospitality and the beauty of your town and the surrounding areas, and it is with those images in mind that we deliver our urgent message to you today.
The postponement of the plan by Kansai Electric Company (KEPCO) to use mixed plutonium-uranium oxide (pluthermal, or MOX) fuel in the Takahama 3 and 4 reactors presents a historic opportunity for you to make sure that this dangerous plan never comes to pass. The revelations that the manufacturer of the MOX fuel, British Nuclear Fuels, Limited (BNFL), fraudulently approved the fuel for Takahama by falsifying quality control data, and that KEPCO concealed this fact from the Japanese government and Japanese people, show that those behind the MOX plan cannot be trusted. KEPCO has no longer any right to expect that you, the citizens of Takahama, should trust its empty assurances that it can use MOX fuel safely.
Even as Japan and the United Kingdom argue over who must dispose of BNFL's defective MOX fuel, KEPCO is planning to soon import even more MOX fuel from another supplier: the French company COGEMA. Because COGEMA is so secretive, no one can say if their quality control process is any more trustworthy than BNFL's process. However, even if MOX fuel is manufactured exactly according to specifications, it is still very dangerous and will pose grave risks to the people of Takahama and, ultimately, all of Japan. This is why Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has decided to postpone use of MOX fuel in two of its plants as well, even though the MOX fuel it was going to use was manufactured not in the U.K. but in Belgium.
The whole world was horrified by the tragic accident at the JCO, Co. plant in Tokai-mura last fall, and what it revealed about how economic difficulties have caused the erosion of the safety culture at nuclear facilities in Japan. As was apparent from the Tokai-mura accident, workers are the first to suffer from these safety lapses. Thus, even those of you who work for KEPCO at Takahama should not support using MOX fuel, for it will increase the risks you face every day on the job.
Bureaucrats and corporate interests pushing the MOX plan are not going to act with the welfare of the public in mind unless they are forced to. That is why you should take the initiative and send a message to KEPCO and the government of Japan demanding that they act responsibly to protect your health and safety.
To Mayor Imai and the Takahama Town Council, we believe it is your obligation to permit the referendum on the use of MOX fuel in Takahama to proceed. The national government, KEPCO and BNFL have betrayed your trust and the trust of the citizens for whom you are responsible. The people deserve to get all of the facts and the right to make an informed decision. The fact that only 20% of Takahama citizens signed the referendum petition does not imply that 80% are in favor. There are likely to be many individuals who have opinions that they cannot or do not want to reveal openly.
Why is MOX fuel so dangerous? First, because the cores of reactors using MOX fuel contain much higher amounts of hazardous, cancer-causing radioisotopes such as plutonium, americium and curium. In the event of a severe accident at Takahama that caused the reactor containment to be breached, we have shown (see other side) that for a one-quarter core of MOX fuel, the number of resulting cancer deaths among the citizens downwind from the accident would be more than twice as great as for a full core of ordinary uranium fuel. This corresponds to tens of thousands of additional cancer deaths. The number of people who would die from the terrible effects of acute radiation poisoning, in a manner similar to the unfortunate Mr. Ouchi at the JCO, Co. plant, would also nearly double. The townspeople of Takahama would be in the front lines of this accident.
Also, experiments have documented that high-burnup MOX fuel contains much higher amounts of radioactive gas than high-burnup uranium fuel, and is more vulnerable to rupture during certain types of accidents. This phenomenon could be even more serious for fuel with quality control defects. Therefore, using MOX fuel may increase the chance that a serious accident will occur, jeopardizing the safety and economic security of the employees at Takahama and the citizens in surrounding areas.
If you say "no" to plutonium MOX in Takahama, you will help to make the whole world safer from the threat of nuclear weapons. Contrary to industry propaganda, the "reactor-grade" plutonium in MOX fuel can be used to make powerful nuclear weapons. If the MOX plan goes forward in Japan, then Japanese utilities will continue to reprocess its spent nuclear fuel and extract plutonium. This will increase the already large stockpiles of separated plutonium in the world. Instead, Japan should end its MOX and reprocessing programs, declare its plutonium stockpile a nuclear waste and to dispose of it by encasing it in glass with other, highly radioactive nuclear wastes.
We understand that many Takahama citizens work for KEPCO or depend on those who do for your livelihoods. However, a vote to prohibit MOX from being used in Takahama will not be a threat to your jobs. Instead, such a vote can only make them more secure. Because MOX fuel is so much more expensive than uranium fuel, rejecting the use of MOX fuel will help keep expenses down and improve the economic viability of KEPCO in a more competitive electricity market. Moreover, increasing the risk of a catastrophic accident at the Takahama plant by using MOX fuel is not in anyone's best interests. Such an accident, in addition to devastating the local economy, could well mean the end to nuclear power in Japan. On the other hand, saying "no" to MOX will allow a renewed focus on running the existing plants as safely as possible and provide a greater guarantee of long-term prosperity for your community.
We urge you to proceed with the referendum on the use of MOX fuel in Takahama. We are confident that the people will make the right choice and permanently reject the use of this overpriced and hazardous fuel.
Paul Leventhal Edwin Lyman, PhD
President Scientific Director
Nuclear Control Institute Nuclear Control Institute
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