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Ex-leader of Japan warns against nuclear power

Naoto Kan cited the reactor in Plymouth.

Naoto Kan cited the reactor in Plymouth.

Former prime minister Naoto Kan of Japan, who dealt with a major nuclear disaster in 2011, said Wednesday the densely populated Greater Boston area is no place for a nuclear power reactor such as the one in Plymouth.

Kan was in office when an earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima-Daiichi power plant roughly 170 miles north of Tokyo, triggering radiation leaks and explosions that caused massive evacuations. The facility used similar technology to Plymouth’s Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station.

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“I realized that [the way] to ensure that an accident does not happen like this is not to have nuclear power plants,” Kan, speaking through an interpreter, told a crowd of about 100 gathered at the State House Wednesday for a panel on the lessons learned from Fukushima. “So today we are here in Boston, with Pilgrim, [and] ultimately it is up to the citizens to shut down the nuclear power plant.”

Of particular concern at Pilgrim, said Kan and other panelists, including former Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Gregory Jaczko, is the thousands of spent fuel rods crowding storage ponds at the plant. Those could become a problem if, say, a large storm caused a prolonged power outage at the facility.

“Nobody knows when or where a nuclear accident will happen, but definitely somewhere it will happen,” Kan said in an interview with the Globe. “Since Boston is so densely populated it is not a place for nuclear reactors.”

Entergy Corp., the Louisiana company that owns Pilgrim and the retiring Vermont Yankee in Vernon, Vt., defended the safety of the Plymouth plant in a statement, saying the facility gets “excellent safety ratings” from regulators.

“The plant is regularly examined to identify enhancements to make it even safer, including using lessons learned from Fukushima, and many have either been completed or are underway,” Entergy said.

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The company also released a statement from Dale Klein, another former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, condemning comparisons between the Fukushima accident and a hypothetical accident at Pilgrim as “intellectually dishonest” and “fear mongering.” US nuclear power plants have added considerable safety systems from their initial designs, Klein said.

“The nuclear power plants at Fukushima Daiichi did not have the same improved safety systems as implemented at our US nuclear power plants,” Klein said.

Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said regulators have taken lessons from the Fukushima disaster and moved to implement them, including re-evaluating flood and seismic activity risks.

“We’re already moving ahead aggressively on those recommendations,” Sheehan said.

Given that no one can completely rule out the possibility of a future nuclear crisis at Pilgrim, Jaczko urged regulators and the public to reconsider the necessity of nuclear facilities in the United States and to work to fundamentally change the way the country receives its power.

“It’s not a question of how you replace Pilgrim,” Jaczko said, but a question of “how do we make energy for the next 50, 60, 80 years?”

Jaczko said he thinks part of the answer is to localize power generation, perhaps by making homes capable of creating their own power — through solar, mini wind turbines, and other alternative energy technologies.

Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.

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