Nuclear experts have thrown doubt on the accuracy of official information issued about the Fukushima nuclear accident, saying that it followed a pattern of secrecy and cover-ups employed in other nuclear accidents. “It’s impossible to get any radiation readings,” said John Large, an independent nuclear engineer who has worked for the UK government and been commissioned to report on the accident for Greenpeace International.
“The actions of the Japanese government are completely contrary to their words. They have evacuated 180,000 people but say there is no radiation. They are certain to have readings but we are being told nothing.” He said a radiation release was suspected “but at the moment it is impossible to know. It was the same at Chernobyl, where they said there was a bit of a problem and only later did the full extent emerge.” 1
This is the opening to a Guardian article from March 14th, written just three days after the tsunami which caused such widespread devastation and triggered the failures at the Fukushima plant. The same article concludes:
“What we are seeing follows a clear pattern of secrecy and denial,” said Paul Dorfman, co-secretary to the Committee Examining Radiation Risks from Internal Emitters, a UK government advisory committee disbanded in 2004.
“The Japanese government has always tended to underplay accidents. At the moment the Japanese claims of safety are not to be believed by anyone. The health effects of what has happened so far are imponderable. The reality is we just do not know. There is profound uncertainty about the impact of the accident.”
The Japanese authorities and nuclear companies have been implicated in a series of cover-ups. In 1995, reports of a sodium leak and fire at Japan’s Monju fast breeder reactor were suppressed and employees were gagged. In 2002, the chairman and four executives of Tepco, the company which owns the stricken Fukushima plant, resigned after reports that safety records were falsified.
Then, last Thursday, the Guardian published this follow-up article based on the evidence of internal emails which show that the British government was also involved in covering up the dangers of nuclear power in the immediate wake of Fukushima:
British government officials approached nuclear companies to draw up a co-ordinated public relations strategy to play down the Fukushima nuclear accident just two days after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and before the extent of the radiation leak was known.
Internal emails seen by the Guardian show how the business and energy departments worked closely behind the scenes with the multinational companies EDF Energy, Areva and Westinghouse to try to ensure the accident did not derail their plans for a new generation of nuclear stations in the UK.
“This has the potential to set the nuclear industry back globally,” wrote one official at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), whose name has been redacted. “We need to ensure the anti-nuclear chaps and chapesses do not gain ground on this. We need to occupy the territory and hold it. We really need to show the safety of nuclear.”2
The article continues:
The business department emailed the nuclear firms and their representative body, the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA), on 13 March, two days after the disaster knocked out nuclear plants and their backup safety systems at Fukushima. The department argued it was not as bad as the “dramatic” TV pictures made it look, even though the consequences of the accident were still unfolding and two major explosions at reactors on the site were yet to happen.
“Radiation released has been controlled – the reactor has been protected,” said the BIS official, whose name has been blacked out. “It is all part of the safety systems to control and manage a situation like this.”
The official suggested that if companies sent in their comments, they could be incorporated into briefs to ministers and government statements. “We need to all be working from the same material to get the message through to the media and the public.”
Do we get the message then? The message being very loud and clear, and a profound cause for concern. As Tom Burke, a former government environmental adviser and visiting professor at Imperial College London, said to The Guardian:
“[The British government] are too close to industry, concealing problems, rather than revealing and dealing with them.”
Or you may prefer to infer from all of this, as George Monbiot did in a follow-up piece for the Guardian on Monday 4th July, that this is simply business as usual, which no doubt it is:
“Nuclear operators worldwide have been repeatedly exposed as a bunch of arm-twisting, corner-cutting scumbags.
In this respect they are, of course, distinguished from the rest of the energy industry, which is run by collectives of self-abnegating monks whose only purpose is to spread a little happiness. How they ended up sharing the names and addresses of some of the nuclear companies is a mystery that defies explanation.”3
With this much agreed, Monbiot then goes further, perpetuating the industry line that radiation leaks from Fukushima, which we ought to remind ourselves is still very much an on-going disaster, and with no foreseeable end in sight, have caused no serious harm to the people of Japan:
[Even] the Daiichi meltdown, the same energy agency report tells us, has caused no medical harm. While the evacuation it necessitated is profoundly traumatic and disruptive, “to date no confirmed health effects have been detected in any person as a result of radiation exposure” from the accident. Compare this to the 100,000 deaths caused by air pollution from coal plants every year, and you begin to see that we’ve been fretting about the wrong risks.
Whenever I read excuses like this my immediate thought is tobacco, asbestos, depleted uranium… So why does Monbiot continue to parrot such blatant disinformation? As a journalist and an environmentalist isn’t he supposed to be demanding answers from this industry, which he concedes is corrupt absolutely, rather than playing forward defensive to their cause.
What the industry insiders in Britain either didn’t know, or didn’t care about, as they lobbied the government to play the incident down, was that reactors 1 and 3 were already in meltdown, and that the meltdown in reactor 2 was imminent:
The plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Co., admitted last month that nuclear fuel rods in reactors 2 and 3 probably melted during the first week of the nuclear crisis.
It had already said fuel rods at the heart of reactor No. 1 melted almost completely in the first 16 hours after the disaster struck. The remnants of that core are now sitting in the bottom of the reactor pressure vessel at the heart of the unit and that vessel is now believed to be leaking.
A “major part” of the fuel rods in reactor No. 2 may have melted and fallen to the bottom of the pressure vessel 101 hours after the earthquake and tsunami that crippled the plant, Tokyo Electric said May 24.
The same thing happened within the first 60 hours at reactor No. 3, the company said, in what it called its worst-case scenario analysis, saying the fuel would be sitting at the bottom of the pressure vessel in each reactor building.4
Click here to read more details from the same CNN article
A few newspapers had reported the meltdown of reactors almost from the onset of the disaster, but there had then been a full two months delay before any official confirmation was received either from Tokyo Electric Power Co. or the Japanese government. Meanwhile, the British nuclear industry, in cahoots with British government, were already spinning a line to mutually protect themselves from the inevitable public backlash.
In defence of these deceptions, the emails having been exposed, both sides will plead ignorance of course, as if not knowing the true extent of the disaster justified their efforts to play the risks down. But with the proper role of journalism being, as it is, to expose lies and force truth to the surface, Monbiot really ought to be looking into whether or not this plea of insider ignorance can be sustained, whilst highlighting the irresponsibility, criminal or otherwise, of such mendacious collusion between government and industry. Yet he shows no interest in doing either.
John Vidal, also writing in the Guardian (Friday 1st July) gets closer to the heart of the matter:
What the emails shows is a weak government, captured by a powerful industry colluding to at least misinform and very probably lie to the public and the media. When the emails were sent, no one, least of all the industry and its friends in and out of government, had any idea how serious the situation at Fukushima was or might become.
For the business department to then argue that “we really need to show the safety of nuclear” and that “it’s not as bad as it looks”, is shameless. But to argue that the radiation was being released deliberately and was “all part of the safety systems to control and manage a situation” is Orwellian.5
So Orwellian, in fact, that on page 50 of the 136 page file released by the Guardian, one line of a letter to government reads:
“The explosion whilst visually dramatic is part of the safety system, the building protected the reactor”
The explosion was part of the safety system… such an explanation really demands more than mere technical ignorance, involving us also in a wish to remain in ignorance. To accept whatever nonsense we are told and make believe it is true. For IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH, as George Orwell, a journalist with courage, integrity and a deep understanding of politics, knew only too well (if ironically).
Just about catching up with last week’s disinformation, the news rolls ever onward. Fresh lies are continuing to downplay the unprecedented and long-term impact of the crisis at Fukushima, whilst the plight of those unfortunate enough to live in the shadow of Fukushima is slowly forgotten. And a radioactive plume that is growing day by day and month by month, goes almost unnoticed by most people outside of Japan. Uncovering the true scale of the disaster at Fukushima is therefore a matter of great urgency. It might yet save millions of lives.
1 From an article entitled “Japan radiation leaks feared as nuclear experts point to possible cover-up” written by John Vidal and Damian Carrington published in the Guardian on Monday 14th March.
2 From an article entitled “Revealed: British government’s plan to play down Fukushima” by Rob Edwards published in the Guardian on Thursday 30th June.
3 From an article entitled “The nuclear industry stinks. But that is not a reason to ditch nuclear power” by George Monbiot published in the Guardian on Monday 4th July.
5 From an article entitled “Fukushima spin was Orwellian” by John Vidal published in the Guardian on Friday 1st July.