March 28, 2011
Criticism of Nuclear Power Increases Following Disaster in Japan
by Robert Kropp
As high levels of radiation continue to escape Japanese nuclear reactors, RepRisk issues a special
report on risks associated with nuclear power.
Weeks after an earthquake and tsunami devastated northern Japan, news reports today indicate
that high levels of radiation continue to escape from the nuclear reactors damaged in the disaster.
According to the article in today's New York Times, "Highly contaminated water is
escaping a damaged reactor at a crippled nuclear power plant in Japan and could soon leak into the
ocean." Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of the damaged facility, announced that
the radiation levels—1,000 millisieverts per hour—are "at least four times the permissible exposure
levels for workers at the plant and 100,000 times greater than water ordinarily found at a nuclear
facility," the article continued.
As the unfolding disaster in Japan has led to renewed
concerns about reliance on nuclear power, RepRisk, a data provider that compiles negative news on
companies' environmental and social performance, has issued a Special Report on Nuclear Power.
In its report, RepRisk analyzes criticism
aimed at five nuclear power plants, including the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, one of those
crippled by the disaster there. According to the report, "Two failures can be linked to the current
crisis at Fukushima Daiichi NPP: failure to adequately judge the facility's vulnerability to
seismic activity and failure to maintain proper safety standards." RepRisk found that TEPCO ignored
recommendations that the Mark 1 design of the plant be discontinued because of safety risks, as
well as findings "that Mark 1 reactors had a 90 percent probability of bursting should the fuel
rods overheat and melt in an accident."
Furthermore, the report continued, the plant "has
received extensive news coverage revealing that TEPCO engaged in numerous cover-ups and falsified
safety records to keep the plant open."
The other nuclear power plants addressed in the
report are located in India, Bulgaria, Romania, and Brazil. However, "The push to approve more
controversial nuclear power projects does not only come from emerging markets," the report stated.
"Of the 100 most controversial nuclear power projects, 48 percent are located in North America or
In the US, the "government is considering re-approving the operating
license for the Diablo Canyon NPP, in spite of its being located close to a major fault line that
runs along the California coast," the report continued.
Investment decision-making on
nuclear power by sustainable investors varies, although even those that may invest in companies
involved in nuclear power generation tend to proceed cautiously. Calvert, for instance, "will…consider investment in companies
that are leaders in developing renewable energy and/or mitigating climate change, even though they
may also be involved in nuclear power. However, Calvert will seek to avoid investing in companies
that own or operate new nuclear power plants."
Bennett Freeman, the Senior Vice President
of Sustainability Research and Policy at Calvert Asset Management, told SocialFunds.com, "The
overwhelmingly dominant approach that we take is an absolute exclusion on nuclear power. In 2007,
we decided to allow for the first time investment in companies that may have legacy nuclear plants,
but only in certain funds. We do not invest in companies that are developing new nuclear
"We made the change for several new funds, not as any kind of endorsement
of nuclear power, but because we felt that in the context of dealing with climate change it was
important to have a full spectrum of energy options on the table," Freeman continued. "If you're a
utility like Florida Power & Light, which is generating 40% of the wind capacity in the US, we want
to acknowledge that affirmatively. We don't want to penalize you because at the same time you're
operating a few legacy plants from the 60s and 70s."
"If you're a leader in proportion of
investment in renewables, then that should be acknowledged and rewarded," he said. "Our decision
was an affirmation of the need to focus on climate change even at the expense of making some tough
trade-offs like that."
Investments "does not invest in companies that are significant owners or operators of nuclear
power plants," citing concerns over safety and transparency, waste, and nuclear weapons.
2007 report by a coalition including members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) concluded,
"Building expensive new nuclear plants will divert private and public investment from the cheaper
and readily available renewable and energy efficiency options needed to protect our climate."
"In competitive markets, new nuclear power plants will be bad investments," the report