Nuclear power is unsafe and too expensive to justify building new plants anywhere in the world, according to the Japanese prime minister at the time of the Fukushima nuclear accident.
“Nuclear power is not safe. In the worst case scenario up to 50 million people inside a zone of 250km would have had to be evacuated. Nuclear power is not a suitable technology and renewable power is much better,” Kan told the Guardian.
The former prime minister insisted he did not want to tell other countries such as Britain what to do but he said he did not support the reactors being switched back on in Japan.
His warning came as Britain’s nuclear plans are hanging in the balance because of delays over the go-ahead for EDF Energy’s Hinkley Point C project in Somerset and concerns about the project’s financial viability.
While the French company EDF is at the centre of the Hinkley scheme, Hitachi and Toshiba are behind similar intiatives being developed for new reactors at Wylfa on Anglesey, Oldbury in South Gloucestershire, and Sellafield in Cumbria.
Kan said it “did not make sense” to construct new atomic plants because of the cost, especially in those countries where there were no long-term storage facilities for high level radioactive waste. This includes Britain and Japan.
“What I experienced as prime minister made me feel that it does not make sense to rely on nuclear. New generation plant designs are supposed to increase safety but all these do is increase the cost.”
Tom Greatrex, chief executive of Britain’s atomic lobby group, the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA), said he was comfortable that Hinkley and the other reactors being planned in Britain would be safe because they would go through the UK’s most rigorous regulatory scrutiny.
“The process of assessing the reactor design is done in a different way in the UK and that gives confidence that the reactor design (EDF’s European pressurised reactors) will be safe and that is what we need to see.”
Asked about Kan’s wider concerns, Greatrex said: “Since that time [of the Fukushina accident], four reactors have come back on line in Japan … the reality of Fukushima was that all of the casualties were to do with the tsunami and then the evacuation process, not to do with radioactive material being released. In that respect it was a climatic catastrophe rather than a nuclear catastrophe.
“But the most important thing in the UK context of Fukushima is what the UK government did five years ago which was to pause, to reflect, for Mike Weightman [chief inspector of nuclear installations] to do his assessments of what the implications of what Fukushima were for the UK.”
A spokesperson from the Department of Energy and Climate Change also said the safety of British reactors would be paramount. “Any nuclear power station built in the UK will need to comply with our world-leading nuclear safety regulation.
“The British government is backing new nuclear. It is an important part of our plan to give hardworking families and businesses clean, affordable and secure energy that they can rely on now and in the future.”
The £18bn Hinkley Point C nuclear project was thrown into doubt this week after after EDF’s finance director, Thomas Piquemal, resigned after opposing the deal. He believes the costly agreement threatens the company’s future.