The Daily Telegraph - Business
British nuclear engineers to fly to stricken Fukushima plant
BRITISH nuclear experts are being lined up to help decommission the damaged Fukushima power plant in a move that could reboot Japan’s atomic power capabilities.
Lady Judge, the BritishAmerican nuclear expert and adviser at Fukushima, is arranging for engineers from Sellafield in Cumbria to travel to Japan to advise on decontaminating and shutting down the stricken site.
“At Sellafield and Dounreay we are decommissioning big power plants and we can provide a very good example to the Japanese of how to do it safely,” said Lady Judge in an interview with The Daily
Telegraph. “I’ve been talking to Sellafield about sending some engineers to help.”
The Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), which owns the Fukushima plant, is planning to launch a new subsidiary for decommissioning and decontamination on April 1. The division is expected to be headed by a Japanese nuclear expert who is expected to be advised by British engineers.
On Friday, Sellafield ordered all non-essential staff to stay at home after elevated readings of radiation were detected on site. Later officials at the plant – the site of Britain’s worst nuclear accident in 1957 – said naturally occurring radioactive gas that comes from rocks and soil had triggered the alarm.
“A lot of knowledge will go between Japan and the UK,” said Lady Judge. “Helping the Japanese will also help the Brits. We will benefit from working in Japan, the nuclear industry will benefit, and R&D will flourish in both countries.”
The move would reverse the roles in the UK where Japanese companies, including Toshiba and Hitachi, are leading the plans, alongside France’s EDF Energy, to build the first nuclear power stations in Britain for decades. Three weeks ago, Toshiba agreed to buy a 60pc stake in NuGeneration, the UK nuclear venture that plans to build three new plants at the Moorside site in West Cumbria.
Lady Judge said that while Britain had lost most of its nuclear building expertise, the country was still a world leader in decommissioning.
Almost 18 months ago, she was asked to join a new international oversight board at Tepco and was appointed deputy chairman of its nuclear reform monitoring committee. She is in charge of safety.
The company is desperate to rebuild trust with the public. The earthquake and tsunami that struck the Daiichi plant in March 2011 caused the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.
Most of Japan’s nuclear plants remain closed, despite the crippling costs of importing oil and gas. Last week, Japan reported a record trade deficit of 11.5trillion yen (£68bn), up 65pc from a year ago, due to soaring energy costs.
an it really be true that Lady Judge, a wafer-thin 68-yearold with a ruffed collar and a French bun, is the saviour of Japan’s nuclear industry – and, arguably, its economy too? Granted, the American-born Brit radiates formidability: her glance, down an immaculately powdered nose, has the penetration of a gamma ray. And she was once dubbed “The Atomic Kitten” by But let’s face it, the Japanese aren’t known for taking their problems to foreigners, especially not to women.
Yet for 16 months Judge has been advising the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) on handling its most toxic problem: the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Nearly 18,000 people were killed by the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011, while the triple meltdown at Fukushima’s Daiichi plant was the world’s biggest nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl.
Though it seems hardly possible, Tepco’s handling of the disaster made things worse. Its first report, in June 2011, concluded that the company could not “imagine an occurrence of such a tsunami”. That was scotched by the emergence of an internal report from 2008 that had warned Fukushima was at risk from a major tsunami.
Two reports from last year suggested a cosy cover-up between Tepco, the regulators and the Japanese government. In July last year, Tepco asked for a 1trillion yen (£5.9bn) government bail-out. In Japan, public hostility towards nuclear has deepened and power plants remain dormant, despite the crippling cost of imported fuel.
So admittedly Tepco was on its knees when it turned to Judge in the autumn. Judge – who gets her title from her third husband, Sir Paul Judge, the food millionaire, Tory donor and former director of the troubled ENRC – says Tepco directors had been impressed by a speech she’d delivered in Japan six months earlier. She spoke about new nuclear stations, but added one crucial observation. “I said that I’d noticed that the most vocal critics of nuclear are women, particularly well-educated women. It’s true in America, France, and UK and in Japan, too,” she says. “Then I told Japanese newspapers what I thought: that the Japanese government should set up an overarching board for the nuclear industry that included more than half women. It seemed to me that only the naysayers were being heard.”
The Japanese government ignored Judge’s suggestion but Tepco reckoned she was on to something. In October, Tepco established a nuclear reform monitoring committee to overhaul the culture, practices and public image of the company. Dr Dale Klein, the former chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, was appointed as chairman; Judge, who is also chairman of Britain’s Pension Protection Fund (PPF), was asked to be his deputy – and head of safety.
“This was a huge accident – people [in Japan] didn’t know how to deal with it,” says Judge. But she adds that the reforms show a revolution in attitude as well as actions. “I can see real progress and real determination and change. They are opening the doors to foreigners – and the fact they put a woman in a very senior position means that they are understanding that they have to utilise all the experience they can.”
Judge has been breaking glass ceilings all her life. Her mother, her “defining influence”, worked until she was 88 – initially teaching women in 1950s New York how to get a job. “People thought my mother was so strange,” says Judge. “She was on a TV programme called a game for celebrities to guess the strange occupation of the guest. My mother’s strange occupation was teaching women to work who didn’t have to. After her, the next person on was a snake-charmer.” Judge adds: “She believed women should work, not because they needed to economically but because they have a brain.”
Judge planned to be an actress but her mother put her foot down. “She said ‘We’re not having any starving actresses in this family. If you want to act you can do it in front of a jury’,” she remembers. With that, Judge started down the path to become a lawyer.
“I worked very hard and did very well,” she says, with characteristic directness. After law school, she wanted to be a corporate or litigation lawyer but was repeatedly told by bosses “that’s for tough men, not you”.
She resolved to work “till 3am every day”. She also ditched her short skirts and long blonde hair for black suits and a tightly spun bun, trademarks she still wears today. She became a corporate lawyer – and also the youngest partner of a big New York law firm in 1978.
Two years later, she was appointed the youngest member of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). When she asked how she had been chosen, she was told that the President wanted a woman, a securities lawyer and a partner of a big law firm. “I was told they could only find six in the whole of America,” she says. Judge left behind her relatively new husband, also a lawyer, in New York and went to work in Washington for five years. Judge says the highlight of her term was negotiating in Japan for foreigners to be allowed to buy seats on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
Next, Judge moved to Hong Kong with her husband and new son. Once there, she switched to banking and became the first female director of Britain’s Samuel Montagu bank. She developed a passion for British people and culture from the expatriates, who talked “about books and interesting things, not money all the time”, she says. So, after another stint in the US, she became a director of Rupert Murdoch’s News International and the family moved to London in 1993.
Judge became known as an impressive networker and collector of 1946
Married, with one son London and France
University of Pennsylvania and New York University Law School New York corporate lawyer
Chairman of the Pension Protection Fund; deputy chairman of the Tepco nuclear reform monitoring committee and head of its task force on nuclear safety directorships. The one that really changed my life” was her appointment to the board of the UK Atomic Energy Authority in 2002. At the time, it was focused on decommissioning Britain’s unloved nuclear power plants. But an increasing reliance on expensive gas imports combined with green concerns was bringing new nuclear on to the political agenda.
Promoted to chairman of the UKAEA in 2004, and by now married to Sir Paul, Judge lobbied hard for new UK nuclear plants. She says the slow progress was then set back by the financial crisis. But she denies that the process has been chaotic. “From where I’m sat, it doesn’t seem [the Government] is lurching back and forth, it’s that they’ve been going slower,” she says.
But she’s supportive of the Government’s deal with France’s EDF to build Britain’s first new nuclear plant for decades at Hinkley Point, despite claims that the price was too expensive. “It was important to get a deal done and get this thing started,” she says. “We don’t really know how expensive it is – shale gas could make all sorts of energy sources look uneconomic in the future.”
She calls herself a “believer” in shale gas, though warns that Britain’s young industry can’t expect to go as fast as the US. “America is a big country with fewer people,” she says. “Britain is more crowded and we have to take the population with us on fracking, so that local people feel the benefits are worth the disruption.”
Meanwhile, she says that Britain must continue to develop a “bouquet of energy sources” – including nuclear.
“Personally, I’m sorry we didn’t keep our own nuclear expertise and sold British Energy and Westinghouse,” she says. Still, she argues that Britain’s industry and the nuclear supply chain will benefit from the advances made with the international experts involved. “All the companies – Toshiba, Hitachi, AREVA – will work to make the power plants the absolute best. And because they are our plants, we must make sure our domestic suppliers are utilised. So even though it’s foreigners building the plants, we will get the benefits of jobs and affluence going forward.”
Meanwhile, Judge is determined to export British expertise – the UK is still among the best at decommissioning – to Japan. “Helping the Japanese will also help the Brits,” says Judge. “We will benefit from working in Japan, the nuclear industry will benefit, and R&D will flourish in both countries.”