Japan Lax Nuclear Security Could Make It The Land Of The Melting Sun

Japan is a giant nuclear pressure cooker. Let’s hope it doesn’t get set off.

full article is in the Japan Times (May 5th, 2013)  On April 15, two alleged terrorists in Boston killed three people, injured more than 170 others and terrified a nation — for about $100 it cost them to modify pressure cookers into bombs. We should be glad they didn’t come to Japan, where they may have been able to explode a ready-made nuclear dirty bomb, kill untold thousands, render huge swaths of the country uninhabitable — and get paid by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) in the process. I wish I were kidding. Japan has more than 50 gigantic nuclear “pressure cookers” ripe for exploitation by terrorists. And they wouldn’t even have to lay siege to the facilities. Instead, they could just walk into a nuclear plant and leave with enough weapons-grade plutonium for a small atomic device — which later could be detonated wherever they chose. How?

In Japan, getting access to a nuclear power plant is very simple: fill out a job application.

It is now more than two years since the start of the nuclear crisis following the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, and there are still no mandatory background checks for workers at its nuclear facilities. After the three reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear complex in March 2011, it became clear that Tepco, the plant’s operator, was allowing members of Japan’s organized crime groups, the yakuza, to staff the well-paid cleanup — just as they had been allowed into plants long before then. Indeed, members and associates of the Sumiyoshi-kai (Kanto) and Kudo-kai (Kyushu) mobs have been arrested for their roles supplying labor to Tepco and its Kansai cousin, Kepco. So the dirty secret that yakuza-linked workers and companies have long sustained Japan’s nuclear industry — along with yakuza members themselves, ex-convicts, wanted criminals, and drug addicts working there — is now public knowledge. Although many yakuza groups claim to have a protective role in society, most of their members are sociopathic felons who would commit theft, assault or murder to make a little money. And if you consider the black-market value of a little plutonium, you may feel a tad uneasy knowing such people have long had access to it — and can still get their hands on nuclear materials. Don’t worry, though: Last month the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) said a panel will be set up to discuss atomic energy security issues, and it will consider introducing a system to investigate the backgrounds of workers to avoid acts of terrorism at nuclear plants. Specifically, it seems the panel will examine ways to check whether nuclear facility employees are drug addicts or have a criminal record, among other issues, in order to screen out anyone who could potentially get involved in terrorism. The panel will comprise NRA Commissioner Kenzo Oshima and outside experts. However, one expert who will not be on the panel is Haruki Madarame, former chief of the now-dissolved Nuclear Safety Commission. He is currently being investigated by prosecutors for alleged criminal negligence. But hey, let’s not dwell on the past. The good news is that the NRA is thinking about making nuclear plants safer in the future. They may even reach the same conclusions that the Nuclear Security Expert Commission of the Atomic Energy Commission announced … in September 2011. Of course, why take action when you can spend more time debating about taking action? The AEC makes recommendations for nuclear energy policy. However, that 2011 report, titled “Basic Nuclear Security Assurance,” doesn’t give a positive view of Japan’s countermeasures. For the rest of the story 

Reference materials for the article and those interested in Japan’s nuclear issues 

A few source materials for the article are below for those who would like to know more. 原子力防護専門部会 (Nuclear Security Expert Commission of the Atomic Energy Commission aReport on Basic Nuclear Security ) Their full report, which discusses the threat from dirty bombs made out of nuclear facility materials, is on-line. (Japanese only) For a prescient look at  the crisis that came, see Japan’s Nuclear Roulette from 2004 For a comprehensive history of Japan’s troubled and corrupt nuclear industry, Jeff Kingston’s essay from Contemporary Japan is a must read. Also very prescient. The Melting Sun: Japan’s Nuclear Follies 

For another view of the problems at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and Japan’s nuclear security problems, Professor Kingston’s recent article: Power Politics: Japan’s Resilient Nuclear Village is a very succinct and chilling read.

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