SEPTEMBER 1986 - VOLUME 7 - NUMBER 13
U P D A T E S
Time Bomb Ticks in Third World
In the second week of April, just two weeks before the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, a report presented to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), revealed that safety measures were inadequate in several Third World nuclear plants.
A three-year series of inspections of plants in Brazil, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea and Yugoslavia produced a report which cited "numerous poor practices... that had the potential of injuries and time losses."
Although the report did not identify individual plants, it criticized emergency response facilities, shielding and ventilation requirements, badly maintained auxiliary systems and poor inspection of contractor work in reactors throughout the Third World.
"General employee training in basic quality assurance, radiation protection and industrial safety was often weak," the report stated. According to the report, problems with transfer of technology in the nuclear industry, as with any other kind of sophisticated plants, are pervasive.
Although reactors for the Third World are purchased from Western manufacturers like General Electric, Westinghouse, or Framatome in France, the IAEA report noted that nuclear plants "in developing countries had frequent difficulties in obtaining spare parts from original sources abroad."
- Third World Network
Aborigines to Lose Land
Aborigine groups in Australia are once again facing relocation, this time to make room for a U.S.-Australian naval base on Jervis Bay.
Aboriginal groups and environmental organizations argue that should the plans for the base proceed, not only would the lives of the tribal people be disrupted and their native homes destroyed, but the Bay area's rainforest and large seagrass meadows would be devastated.
The base, which will cost an estimated $1 billion, will house nuclear warships on the coast of New South Wales.
Elsewhere on the continent, the Committee to Defend Black Rights reported that the Australian government has made arrangements with the Port Authority in Cairns, Queensland to excise 1,000 hectares of land the government had previously pledged to local Aboriginal tribes there.
The Port Authority has been seeking rights to the land for the development of a deep water port. Although past governments have pledged to protect land owned by tribal groups, the current Labor Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Clyde Holding, has failed to make any such pledge.
Kerr-McGee to Pay Silkwood Estate $1.2 Million
After a twelve-year court battle, the Kerr-McGee Corporation has reached a settlement with the estate of union activist Karen Silkwood for $1.38 million.
Silkwood, a 28-year old laboratory analyst, was killed in a car accident in 1974 on her way to delivering documentation of nuclear plant safety violations to a New York Times reporter.
An autopsy later revealed that Silkwood had been contaminated with alarming amounts of plutonium, one of the most toxic and carcinogenic substances known. The documents Silkwood was attempting to release were never found.
Investigations stemming from the Silkwood death opened up a Pandora's box of problems at the plant. Faulty plutonium fuel rods were being produced, large amounts of weapons-grade plutonium were missing from the plant, Kerr-McGee had conducted illegal wiretapping and electronic surveillance of Silkwood, and both the FBI and the Justice Department had participated in coverups surrounding the case.
In 1979, a federal jury awarded the Silkwood family $10 million in punitive damages against Kerr-McGee for the contamination. The appellate court overturned the award, however, finding that under the federal Atomic Energy Act state juries lacked the authority to levy punitive damages against nuclear facilities despite evidence of negligent or malicious conduct.
When the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court in January 1984, the appellate court's decision was overturned. The Supreme Court in a 5 to 4 decision found that state courts do have the right to award punitive damages in cases involving nuclear facilities. Although the Supreme Court also found that KerrMcGee was responsible for Silkwood's contamination and that strict liability does apply to holders of a federal nuclear license, it sent the case back to the federal Circuit Court for a redetermination of damages. Last year the Circuit Court again rejected the original damage award and ordered a new trial. Rather than face the prospect of additional litigation, Kerr-McGee agreed to settle.
Hong Kong to China: No Nukes
Plans for the construction of an 1800 megawatt nuclear reactor has created widespread opposition in the British colony of Hong Kong. Over one million of the five million inhabitants of Hong Kong signed a petition against the plant after the recent nuclear accident at Chernobyl.
Opponents to the project argue that in the event of an accident at Daya Bay, where the plant is to be located, it would be impossible to evacuate the densely populated area.
For many Hong Kong residents, how China responds will be viewed as a test of future relations between the island and the Beijing government. The Chinese government is due to take control of Hong Kong in 1999.
The generator and two reactors for the plant are being supplied by the British firm GEC and Framatome of France, making the Daya Bay project the largest joint venture the Beijing government has entered into, with a price tag estimated at $3.5 billion.