The thin ice under nuclear regulatory independence

In this space I have written before about the importance of nuclear regulatory agencies being fully independent. Fukushima showed that a lack of independence leads to complacency and that complacency adds to the complexity of nuclear accidents when they happen. 

In 2009, the Euratom Treaty adopted a rule on regulatory independence: Section 5(2) of the Nuclear Safety Directive (2009/71/Euratom) says: “Member States shall ensure that the competent regulatory authority is functionally separate from any other body or organisation concerned with the promotion, or utilisation of nuclear energy, including electricity production, in order to ensure effective independence from undue influence in its regulatory decision making.” The nearest you can get to violating this rule is by promoting nuclear yourself.

Yet promoting nuclear seems to be what the president of the Polish Nuclear Energy Agency (PAA) Janusz Włodarski is doing. Currently, he faces a push from Polish politicians and the nuclear lobby to introduce nuclear power in what is now a nuclear-free country. Quotes attributed to Mr. Włodarski in the Japanese magazine “Rising” are more than sufficient reason for concern: “Nuclear energy is clean energy, environmentally friendly. Even if something like the Fukushima disaster were to happen [again], Poland wants to implement nuclear power.”

A PR spokesperson for PAA, Monika Kaczyńska, has used Twitter to suggest that the Japanese translation of the second sentence attributed to Mr. Włodarski was wrong: She tweeted that instead of “wants to implement”, Mr. Włodarski said “is interested in”. Well, all my Japanese sources disagree. It may of course have been, that Mr. Włodarski’s second sentence was not translated well from Polish into Japanese.

“Implemented” or “interested”, either is of course distasteful to the victims of Fukushima. But what did Mr. Włodarski really mean, since in her attempt to clarify Ms. Kaczyńska did not address the first sentence that appears to promote nuclear energy. And a nuclear regulator who calls nuclear energy “clean” and “environmentally friendly” is definitely going beyond his mandate.

Mr. Włodarski has used the arguments that Polish politicians use to try to massage the opinion of the majority of Poles who know that nuclear energy is not clean and not environmentally friendly, and that Fukushima is an ongoing catastrophe.

Now that we’re at it, Ms. Kaczyńska has only started tweeting recently and one of the few tweets was (translated from Polish) “1/2 Systematically get information about the state of the sea water around the plant in #Fukushima; 2/2 Radioactive concentrations are below standards. There is no radiological risk to humans and the environment in the waters around #Fukushima”.  Uhuh? ‘Below standards’ does not equal ‘no risk’. That is a basic issue that a nuclear regulator – any person working for a nuclear regulator – should know. The levels in seawater do not include hot spots and bio-accumulation. Language that plays down the effects of catastrophes like Fukushima is part of nuclear promotion, not of the independent provision of information.

Nothing in Mr. Wlodarski’s bio suggests he is not an independent president of the nuclear regulator. But slips of the tongue like the ones described here should not happen. What has worked in countries like France and Germany is to have among your staff people who are critical of nuclear power – people who can point out that what one hears every day in the nuclear village is more propaganda then fact. Maybe a suggestion for Poland.

Unless, of course, Mr. Włodarski stands fully behind the quotes. In that case, it is time to look for someone else to fill his position. What we need at PAA is someone who can prevent the Polish nuclear industry from getting away with a nuclear power station that is built on propaganda rather than hard fact. Because such a nuclear power station could well become the next Fukushima.

Jan Haverkamp is a Greenpeace expert consultant on nuclear energy and energy policy and is based in Gdańsk and Prague.

via Greenpeace news

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