Australian news, and some related international items

Nuclear industry and International Atomic Energy Agency’s conflict of interest, downplaying accident risks

conflict-of-interestNuclear industry, watchdog downplaying accident risks WHIPPLE September 20, 2016 The risks of nuclear power are being significantly underestimated because of systematic under-reporting of accidents by industry bodies with conflicts of interest, scientists have said.

The largest analysis of the risks of nuclear accidents has calculated a Fukushima-magnitude event is “more probable than not” in the lifetimes of people born today.

The British government gave assent last week to the construction of the £18 billion ($31bn) Hinkley Point C reactor, the biggest nuclear investment in a generation. However, scientists from Britain and Switzerland said its true cost may not have been calculated correctly because of risks may be underestimated. They also called for greater transparency in the nuclear industry, saying its estimates were hampered by “flawed and woefully incomplete” data.

Much of the data is meant to be held by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which collates national reports of nuclear accidents and rates them for severity. However, the scientists wrote in the journal Risk Analysis, the IAEA does not publish a historical database, which they said was “astonishing”. They also argued the scale used underplays the severity of large events.

“Given that the IAEA has the dual objective of promoting and regulating the use of nuclear energy, one should not take the full objectivity of the … data for granted,” they wrote.

The French regulator is known to report hundreds of events every year deemed “significant to nuclear safety”, yet few turn up on the IAEA public records. Only 216 safety events since 1950 were available for the most recent analysis, but more than half had to be gleaned from press reports and other public data.

Benjamin Sovacool, of the University of Sussex, said the IAEA had a conflict of interest, dating back to the Cold War, for encouraging civil nuclear power.

“It relates back to ‘Atoms for Peace’,” he said. “The goal was to show that the atom could be a force for good, not just evil. Because of that, the IAEA has a strong promotional arm.”

National agencies were hugely under-reporting accidents, some involving millions of dollars of damage, Professor Sovacool said. “In Japan, incidents where people got killed only came up years later. China has a strong interest in exporting nuclear technology and in keeping secrets,” he said.

One consequence of under-­reporting is the true costs of plants such as Hinkley Point C cannot be calculated. The analysis found more than $1.7bn should be budgeted each year for dealing with nuclear accidents globally.

Professor Thomas Rose, from University College London, who was not involved in the research, said it showed that more openness was essential.

“The secretiveness around nuclear event data is a huge problem,” he said. “Especially when investments like Hinkley Point have to be discussed and decided. Because of the international treaties, it is probably impossible to get the data from the IAEA.”

Professor Sovacool agreed. “It’s a matter of the industry not reporting to national regulators, regulators not reporting to the IAEA, and the IAEA not reporting all.”

A spokeswoman for the IAEA said: “The IAEA neither regulates nor promotes the nuclear industry. Our job is to help countries that use nuclear power to do so safely, securely and sustainably.”

September 21, 2016 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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