Wednesday, 31 October 2012

UK Government ignores Hitachi's record on nuclear safety

Undaunted by the lack of demand for nuclear reactor systems in its home country, Hitachi is now seeking to sell the systems abroad. In the UK the company aims to do this through the acquisition of Horizon Nuclear Power, a joint venture between E.On and RWE. Those companies announced in late March 2012 that they had abandonned nuclear new-build plans in the UK, citing a "combination of these strategic factors, together with the significant ongoing costs" and had put the business up for sale. Hitachi now plans to build new reactors in Wylfa (on Anglesey) and Oldbury (near Bristol).

The UK is seen as a target ripe for new nuclear development because of a coalition Government which portrays nuclear as a "low-carbon" option. David Cameron hailed Hitachi's announcement, saying "I warmly welcome Hitachi as a major new player in the UK energy sector" and talking of some 12,000 construction jobs which might be created short-term.

Importing disaster

The Fukushima nuclear disaster has left nearly 1000 square kilometres - an area the size of Manhattan - uninhabitable because of high radiation levels. The disaster has meant that there is now a moratorium on the building of new nuclear reactors in Japan. One of the reactor systems, whose failure has caused such widespread contamination, was built by the Japanese company Hitachi.

The nuclear reactors proposed for Wylfa and Oldbury are of the same type used at Fukushima. This is a Boiling Water Reactor (BWR), based on a design by General Electric and available from a number of companies, including General Electric, Toshiba and Hitachi. The technology involves a reactor core which boils water, which turns to steam that is used to drive a turbine to make electricity. The same technology was used by reactors at both Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Cover-up culture

In March 2011 a Japanese whistle-blower revealed that there had been a cover-up of a manufacturing defect in the containment vessel for the Fukushima No. 4 reactor, made by Hitachi. The engineer, Mitsuhiko Tanaka, worked for Hitachi and was asked in 1974 to conceal a dent in the vessel caused by an error during the production process at the Babock-Hitachi foundry in Kure City. Tanaka devised a method to repair the damage, saving the company billions of yen in re-engineering costs but leaving the safety of the vessel potentially compromised.

He tried to tell the Japanese Trade Minstry about the cover-up in 1988 but officials refused to investigate and Hitachi denied the accusations. Tanaka told Bloomberg News last year "They said, if Hitachi says they didn’t do it, then there’s no problem. Companies don’t always tell the truth."

The question of waste

Forever hovering over the nuclear debate is the question of disposal of radioactive waste. Some seventy years after the first reactor was built, there is still no satisfactory solution for the disposal of the highly-radioactive waste materials produced. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority estimates that the UK has produced some 5 million tonnes of nuclear waste and says in a 2010 report "Facilities for disposing of HLW [High Level Waste], ILW [Intermediate Level Waste] and LLW [Low Level Waste] unsuitable for near-surface disposal have yet to be developed – these wastes are currently stored."

by Marcus Williamson
Freelance Journalist
31 October 2012
[Please cite the name of the author if using material from this article in another publication, thank you]

Friday, 26 October 2012

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Company director information is now free

Companies House has announced that it is now providing information about company directors at no cost.

The change, which takes place from 1 October 2012, means that obtaining a list of any company's directors is free on the Companies House website. For consumers and campaigners this will mean that getting access to company information will be easier and cheaper.

The new "zero" pricing is a result of improved operational efficiency within the organisation. A spokesperson at Companies House said:

"On 1 October 2012, Companies House will be reducing some of its fees. This is to ensure that our fees accurately reflect our costs. As a result of efficiencies made by Companies House, coupled with high volumes of customers using electronic services, cost savings are being passed on to customers in the form of reduced fees..."

Marcus Williamson, journalist and editor of the consumer information site, said

"This is excellent news which will help consumers and campaigners to find out more about the companies they're dealing with. More openness and transparency, at no cost, is a benefit to everyone."

Company information can be accessed via the Companies House website WebCHeck system at

Marcus Williamson

2 October 2012

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Three police forces reconsider G4S contracts

Representatives from the police forces of Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire met on Monday to reconsider the proposed outsourcing of administration services to the company G4S. Administration functions included in the proposals are Human Resources, Information Technology and Legal Services but do not include any core policing functions.

This development was against the backdrop of recent events in relation to the Olympics, where concerns have been raised over the ability of G4S to deliver on its contracts. Lincolnshire has been the first police force in the UK to implement the controversial outsourcing of police adminstration to G4S, formerly known as Group 4. The continuation of that contract is also now in question.

A joint statement issued by the working group, composed of twelve members, four from each of the three police authorities, said:

"The Bedfordshire Hertfordshire Cambridgeshire Joint Working Group met today (Monday) to consider a report from the three chief constables, in which they raised concerns regarding the ability of the Lincolnshire/G4S contract to meet the specific needs of the BCH strategic alliance for the delivery of organisational support services."

Monday's meeting decided that further work would be required to examine the situation and that the Joint Working Group will deliver a report with their conclusions in mid-August.

The statement continued:

"If the Lincolnshire/G4S contract did not prove suitable, informed by the outline business case, a recommendation would be brought to police authorities to progress the bespoke procurement of a commercial provider to deliver organisational support services. This would be allow incoming Police and Crime Commissioners to consider this approach post November."

When asked why the administration services could not be retained inhouse, and thus avoid outsourcing to an external private company altogether, the Chief Constable of Bedfordshire Police, Alfred Hitchcock, replied:

"A number of options are being considered on how we can deliver the best service to the people of Bedfordshire whilst meeting the 20% cut in Central Government Funding. We remain committed to fighting crime and protecting the public, and this work will enable the incoming Police and Crime Commissioner to make a decision which delivers the best possible service for the people of Bedfordshire."

'Back office' failures at G4S

The chairman of Hertfordshire Police UNISON, Steph Raddings, said:

"Among the departments Hertfordshire Constabulary is looking to outsource are HR, training, administration, procurement and logistics. This is despite G4S itself giving the best example of how severely 'front line' provision is impacted when 'back office' functions fail.

"We believe it is the failure in these functions that has led to G4S being unable to supply and maintain its 'front line' security guards. If these functions fail once police support services are outsourced to G4S, who will cover the thin blue line?"

by Marcus Williamson
Freelance Journalist
26 July 2012

[Please credit the author if you use this article as a source of information for your own writing or broadcasting]

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Monday, 11 June 2012

TEPCO sets date for AGM amidst lawsuit, bailout and questions in Parliament

Denies AGM access to the media

Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), the troubled operator of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, has revealed the date of its Annual General Meeting (AGM) and stated that it will not admit members of the media into the meeting.

The TEPCO 2012 AGM will be held from 10:00am on Wednesday 27 June at the First Gymnasium of the Yoyogi National Stadium in Tokyo, according to an e-mail received from TEPCO Corporate Communications. Spokesperson Mayumi Yoshida explained "Media is not allowed to get inside the meeting, though we will guide media to a certain area to take photos around the entrance."

The 2011 AGM was the scene of angry verbal confrontations between executives and shareholders, as nearly 9000 people packed into the meeting hall and demonstrators gathered outside. A shareholder motion for TEPCO to abandon nuclear energy was defeated at that meeting.


TEPCO reported an annual loss of US$15 billion (1.25 trillion yen) prior to the 2011 AGM and a US$10 billion (782 billion yen) loss for year to 31 March 2012. All of the 54 nuclear reactors in Japan are currently shut down and 80,000 people who were living close to the Fukushima plant have had to leave their homes.

Criminal Complaint

1300 people have today filed a criminal complaint against the TEPCO chairman and 32 other executives, according to a report in the Japan Daily Press (11 June). The complaint, lodged with the Fukushima District Public Prosecutors Office, alleges that the company executives failed to prepare countermeasures for earthquakes or tsunamis and did not properly warn the population about the spread of radiation.


On 9 May TEPCO received a 1 trillion yen (US $12.5 billion) bailout from the Japanese government, in return for a controlling stake. The cash injection was necessary to avoid a collapse of the company. The shares will be held by a new body, the Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund.

Questions in Parliament

On Friday last week the former president of TEPCO, Masataka Shimizu, faced a government-appointed panel to answer questions about his conduct during the Fukushima incident. In response to questions about a planned total evacuation of the site, he told panel members that TEPCO had "at no stage considered a complete pullout".

by Marcus Williamson
Freelance Journalist
11 June 2012

[Please credit the author if you use this article as a source of information for your own writing or broadcasting]

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Government terminates contract with Addison Lee

The minicab company Addison Lee is losing its contract with the Government for private car hire, according to information received today from the Cabinet Office.

The Government's Chief Procurement Officer, John Collington, who is based at the Cabinet Office, confirmed the termination of the contract in an e-mail today. He stated:

"We expect all private hire vehicles in London to adhere to the prohibition on using bus lanes.

In regard to Addison Lee, the only existing government contract with the company will expire at the end of this month and is not being renewed."

Addison Lee has been hit by controversy on two issues recently:

In the Chairman's Column of the company's magazine, Add Lib, John Griffin suggested that "the influx of beginner cyclists is going to lead to an overall increase in accidents involving cyclists". Cyclists responded this week by staging a protest and "die-in" outside Addison Lee's offices on Monday evening.

Then, on 16 April, the company issued a press statement saying that it had instructed its 3500 drivers to use bus lanes, in breach of the law. Griffin said he would indemnify its drivers from any fines or payments that resulted. Transport for London today won an injunction preventing Addison Lee from using bus lanes. Mr Justice Eder said the injunction had been put in place to "prevent crime and protect the freedom of others".

It can be assumed that the Government's decision on terminating the contract is the direct result of the company's disregard for the law. In the meantime, Addison Lee awaits an impending judicial review of the Bus Lane legislation.

by Marcus Williamson
Freelance journalist
26 April 2012

[Please credit the author if you use this article as a source of information for your own writing or broadcasting]

Update: 27 April

Mainstream media coverage of this story:

Independent: Minicab firm Addison Lee loses Government contract over bus lane rebellion

Guardian: Addison Lee loses government contract

Daily Telegraph: Addison Lee loses Government contract after bus lane row

The Times: Bus lane rebels Addison Lee lose government contract

Daily Mirror: Taxi for Tory donor: Tycoon loses contract after rows over cash-for-access, cyclists and bus lanes

Evening Standard: Addison Lee loses deal to drive ministers after bus lane battle

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Three disgraced Peers return to House of Lords

Three disgraced peers are returning to the House of Lords. Two have served jail sentences and repaid their false claims. Another has just repaid £125,000 in wrongly claimed expenses, after previously claiming that she could not afford to do so. The members, Lord Hanningfield (Paul White), Baron Taylor of Warwick (John Taylor) and Baroness Uddin (Manzila Pola Uddin) were all suspended after their abuse of the Lords expenses system was discovered.

Lord Hanningfield - "benefits cheat"
Paul White was jailed on 1 July 2011 for 9 months for false accounting after a jury at Chelmsford Crown Court found him guilty over a £13,379 expenses claim. In some cases, White had double-dipped, claiming the same expenses for chauffeur-driven travel from both the House of Lords and from Essex Council, where he was Council Leader. In other cases he claimed for stays in London when he had, in fact, returned to Essex.

On sentencing, Justice Saunders said that he would be remembered as a "benefits cheat".

He was held at Wandsworth and then Stamford Hill open prison before being released in September 2011. White returned quietly to the Lords on Monday 23 April 2012, following the Easter recess. He is once again claiming £300 per day in attendance expenses.

Baron Taylor of Warwick - "protracted course of dishonesty"
John Taylor falsely claimed expenses for travelling and staying in Oxford. He was found guilty on 25 January 2011 on six counts of false accounting and jailed on 31 May 2011 for 12 months.

Justice Saunders found that Taylor lied, was guilty of a "protracted course of dishonesty" and stated that "making false claims involved a breach of a high degree of trust".

He was released from prison in September 2011 under the home detention curfew scheme and is eligible to return to the Lords on 11 June 2012.

Baroness Uddin - "wrongly claimed" £125,349
Manzila Pola Uddin claimed £174 a night in subsistence by designating a property in Maidstone as her main home. She is rarely seen there and lives full-time in a property belonging to Spitalfields Housing Association in Wapping.

In October 2010 the House of Lords Privileges and Conduct Committee decided that Baroness Uddin should repay £125,349 and be suspended until Easter 2012. In December 2011 the House Committee in the Lords further recommended that she should not be allowed back until the outstanding amount is repaid in full. However, it admitted that it had no way of forcing her to repay and that "Debt recovery through the courts is not practical in relation to such repayments". There is currently no mechanism to expel her from the House of Lords, without an Act of Parliament.

The House Committee had discussed allowing Uddin and Hanningfield to use their £300 Lords daily allowance to pay back the debt. However, they rejected that option, stating: "We consider that it would be inappropriate for a member to return to the House while still owing money."

After previously claiming that she cannot afford to repay the money, it now emerges that she repaid the entire debt of £125,349.10 earlier this week.

She will now be able to return to the Lords on 9 May 2012.

by Marcus Williamson
Freelance journalist
25 April 2012

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Monday, 9 April 2012

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Government snooping - How to protect yourself

The British Government's recently announced proposals to introduce legalised snooping of telephone calls made, e-mail envelopes sent and received, websites visited and social media activity have been met with widespread and justified outrage. The proposals were not part of the LibDem or Conservative manifestoes and they contradict the commitments on Civil Liberties from the document The Coalition: our programme for government. (see p.11)

A few people, who appear to favour this kind of unwarranted intrusion into our lives on the grounds of "national security", might say "If you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about".

However, there are many legitimate reasons why you may want to protect yourself from intrusion by the Government. British governments have a poor track record of handling private data, so you may not trust the security of the computer system where this information is stored and the integrity of the people who are using it. Further, you may be worried how a future Government might use this data. If you're in business, you might be concerned that your company's trade secrets would be spied on by the Government.

Prevention is better than cure

Clearly, prevention is better than cure, so the best way to avoid Government snooping is to prevent it from happening in the first place. You can do this by writing to your MP and writing to or calling the private offices of Cameron and Clegg (020 7276 3000).

The Internet Service Provider (ISP) is the company which provides your connection to the Internet. British ISPs include such companies BT, Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Sky.

If the surveillance proposals are made law then the ISPs will be obliged to keep logs of each instance of telephone calls made and received, e-mail sender and recipient, addresses of websites visited and social media site visits. The result is a mass of data which can be used to build a "profile" of you and your connections to other people.

If this misguided plan does go ahead, here are a few ways in which you can protect yourself from Government snooping. These are techniques which are already used by ordinary people in repressive regimes such as China, Singapore and Saudi Arabia.

Protecting your Internet connection

One of the most effective methods of protecting your Internet connection is to install Virtual Private Network (VPN) software. This creates a "pipe" between you and a VPN server, through which all Internet access is encrypted. By choosing a VPN server outside the UK you will not be subject to spying on your Internet traffic. However, your e-mail could still be monitored if you use your ISPs e-mail server.


For security, it is best not to use a UK ISP's e-mail address, which is usually in the format name@yourprovider. Instead register your own domain name and e-mail address with an overseas provider or use a free Internet address from Hotmail, GMail or any other provider based outside the UK.

Web surfing

In addition to the use of a VPN, you might consider using a proxy server outside the UK for your web surfing. This redirects all web surfing activity so that it appears to come from the "proxy" system instead of from your own computer. The result is that a website does not see the real person who is connecting to the site.

Social Media

Social media sites use web technology to display status pages, updates and Tweets. These can be protected by the use of VPNs and proxy servers and by using the secure versions of the sites. So, for example: instead of
and instead of

The Government log would then just show a connection to the website but will not include further details.


All of these methods are legal and available to everyone. What they demonstrate is how easy it would be for us to protect ourselves from a snooping Government. They also show that the proposals, from a technical perspective, are a folly. For, if every law-abiding citizen can hide, then those who might want to use the Internet to break the law, can also hide using the same methods.

Marcus Williamson, 4 April 2012