MEXICO CITY - The environmental organization Greenpeace International accused the Mexican government Tuesday of covering up the serious safety defects at the Laguna Verde nuclear power plant in its report to parliament. The authorities claim the plant deserves "excellent" marks.
Greenpeace said that the reactors at the site, located on Gulf of Mexico coast, were shut down for an emergency during an inspection by members of a parliamentary investigative commission Jan 31. The visitors were never informed of the action, according to the environmental watchdog group.
That interruption was another in a series of dozens of similar episodes recorded since the Laguna Verde facility - the only nuclear power plant in Mexico - began commercial operations in 1990, Greenpeace Mexico's director, Raśl Benet, told a press conference Tuesday.
Since 1988, Greenpeace, which opposes nuclear power plants in general, has been gathering documents that show the state-run facility suffers serious safety problems.
Laguna Verde, 469 km north of Mexico City, "must be shut down for the good of the country," says the organization.
But the government says the power plant, which generate 3.6 percent of Mexico's electricity, poses no safety problems and will continue operating just as it has been.
The facility undergoes regular national and international inspections and has received ISO 9001 quality certification, say government officials.
The American Nuclear Society (ANS), an international organization that advocates the use of this energy source, says that the 434 nuclear power plants operating today worldwide pose fewer risks than any thermal-generated electrical plant.
The ANS further points out that nuclear energy does not produce greenhouse gases that cause global warming, like carbon dioxide, emitted by coal- or gas-fired power plants.
Benet announced that Greenpeace and a group of academics have requested a meeting with the legislative commission that is investigating Laguna Verde in order to study the power plant's internal documents and to unmask "the falsehoods into which (its executives) have incurred."
The chronology of irregularities dates back to 1987, when the director of the nuclear plant's construction publicly declared that there had been no quality controls in place during the building of the structure.
Laguna Verde documents and testimonies from former employees gathered by Greenpeace indicate that the facility has experienced repeated shutdowns and that it has structural defects.
In January 2000, after a series of run-ins with the authorities of the Federal Electricity Commission and reports of numerous minor accidents at the nuclear plant, Greenpeace disseminated a special report about the serious deficiencies in Laguna Verde's safety systems.
The report, drawn up by the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), indicates that the facility's accident simulator does not work properly, the staff lack adequate training and some of the equipment is obsolete.
WANO, which inspected the plant in October-November 1999, evaluated activities in 72 different areas. All but nine received critical commentaries from the association.
Representatives of the Ernesto Zedillo government (1994-2000) and of the current administration under President Vicente Fox have recognized the existence of the WANO report, but maintain that the conclusions were favorable to the Laguna Verde installation.
The authorities have called into question the passages of the report that Greenpeace has highlighted, saying the documents cannot be disseminated under WANO policies and are private under an agreement between the parties to the study.
Just days after Greenpeace published parts of the report, the Federal Electricity Commission of Mexico published a letter from WANO which states that "the personnel at Laguna Verde demonstrated a strong desire to improve and have a high level of technical knowledge."
However, the WANO executives did not indicate that the document Greenpeace is wielding is invalid.
WANO, considered a pro-nuclear organization, was founded in 1986 after the nuclear accident in Chernobyl, Ukraine, to monitor nuclear power operations around the world.
According to Greenpeace's Mexican director Benet, the Fox government should allow an independent evaluation of Laguna Verde and should make all information about the plant's operations available to scrutiny because there is clear evidence that a major nuclear tragedy could occur.
The Federal Electricity Commission argues that such information cannot be made public due to security concerns, and assured the lawmakers who are studying the operations at Laguna Verde that there are no problems with the facility.
Copyright © 2002 Inter Press Service