Tag Archives: Fukushima

Japan’s ex-Prime Minister Naoto Kan on how Fukushima changed his mind about nuclear power

It is little more than three years since the Tōhoku earthquake devastated the northeast of Japan in 2011. The most powerful earthquake Japan has ever experienced (fifth biggest in the world since records began) triggered a massive tsunami which caused widespread destruction of nearby houses and infrastructure as well as the immediate deaths of more than 15,000 people. The tsunami also resulted in the nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima Daiichi plant with meltdown of three of its six reactors and a number of explosions – the largest in the Reactor 3 building blowing off the roof and producing a huge radioactive plume. Fukushima is a disaster that, although rarely making it into the news, is ongoing.

To mark this third anniversary of the Tōhoku earthquake and Fukushima disaster, on Tuesday last week [March 11th] Democracy Now! devoted the full show to an exclusive interview with Naoto Kan, Japan’s Prime Minister at the time, who says Fukushima “was definitely the largest, most severe of all nuclear disasters, including going above Chernobyl”, but that in the worst-case scenario it could have been a hundred times more serious:

[A]t the Daiichi plant, there are six reactors and seven spent fuel pools. And then, 12 kilometers from there, at the Daini, the second Fukushima nuclear power plant, there are four additional reactors and four spent fuel pools, meaning that when you combine both Daiichi and Daini together, there’s 10 reactors and 11 spent fuel pools altogether. And if we were to lose control of all of this, it would mean that the accident, the disaster, could be on a scale of many tens or even hundred times more radioactive materials being released than what happened at Chernobyl. And so, thinking about this made me also think about the risk of the possibility that maybe even areas including Tokyo might need to be evacuated. […]

And within this scenario, it said that the worst case could mean having to evacuate up to a 250-kilometer radius of the area… [and] that would involve 40 percent of the population of the whole country of Japan.

This greater crisis has so far been averted, but meanwhile the damaged reactors continue to leak, polluting the air and the ocean, whilst the threat of a worse disaster will persist until the spent fuel rods can be safely removed. This is itself an extraordinarily complex and hazardous procedure involving novel technical challenges.

A small army of engineers and volunteers – including, most deplorably, many recruited from the ranks of Japan’s homeless population (see this article from The Independent) – are also there to help with decontamination of the site. While, and for obvious reasons, the surviving reactors at Fukushima need to be decommissioned too. The operation, not of saving, but merely ameliorating the level of radioactive pollution still being released by the crippled plant, as well as maintaining today’s precarious though stable conditions means extraordinary costs not only in economic terms, but human terms as well. Sustained efforts which will have to go on indefinitely.

Advocates of nuclear power sometimes claim that since the disaster at Fukushima was a result of an almost unprecedented natural disaster, we should not be too alarmed by nuclear plants closer to home. The reactors were old, they point out, and poorly maintained. In the days after the disaster, one prominent environmentalist, whose name does not need repeating here, went so far as to inform the world that the limited failure of the Daiichi plant had led to his own road to Damascus conversion: immediately after the disaster, he wrote, “The crisis at Fukushima has converted me to the cause of nuclear power.” It is perhaps worth noting that the person in question resides in Wales not Japan.

There are a number of points here. The most glaring being that many of the reactors still in operation around the world are equivalently old-fashioned – and very likely no better maintained than those at Daiichi. At the time of the disaster, the reactors at Fukushima were between thirty and forty years old. As you can see from the chart below (based on the latest information from the IAEA), more than fifty of the world’s 435 reactors are now forty or more years old with over half constructed more than thirty years ago:

But it is also important to understand why the reactors at Fukushima failed at all. All had survived the earthquake intact and were then successfully shutdown, however at Daiichi the core temperature inside the reactors continued to rise when the cooling systems stopped working. It was this breakdown of the cooling systems, in turn due to an electrical blackout and loss of backup generators, that caused the meltdowns. So, the disaster at Fukushima shows how reactors – including ones located in areas less prone to natural disasters – might become vulnerable in the event of a major and long-lasting power outage. Click here to read more on this in a report published by the Huffington Post entitled “Long Blackouts Pose Risk to U.S. Nuclear Reactors”.

Perhaps of still greater concern is the staggering fact that there are many nuclear plants throughout the world – including a further six in Japan – also built very close to active geological fault-lines. In the case of the Tsuruga plant in Fukui Prefecture, an active fault runs directly beneath one of its reactors.

Prior to the disaster, Naoto Kan had also been strongly in favour of nuclear power. Shortly afterwards, and whilst holding the office of Prime Minister (he later resigned in August), Kan altered his opinion:

Before March 11 and the disaster, I was holding the position that if the safety could be ensured, then we should continue to utilize nuclear power, nuclear power plants. But, as you [interviewer Amy Goodman] said, this position changed. The Fukushima disaster brought us on the verge of having to evacuate 50 million people, and we were only just one small step away from perhaps facing this kind of situation… the one way to prevent this from happening, to prevent the risk, to get rid of the risk of having to evacuate such huge amounts of people, 50 million people, and for the purpose, for the benefit of the lives of our people, and even the economy of Japan, I came to change [my] position, that the only way to do this, what was necessary to do this, was to totally get rid of the nuclear power plants.

In the second half of the interview, Naoto Kan was also asked to account for his own actions in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. For instance, why had he ordered the TEPCO employees to remain on the site? This was his response:

Well, the first thing which happened at 3:00 a.m. on March the 15th, the minister for the economy came to my office, came to me, and he said that the TEPCO headquarters had requested to him for the workers from the Daiichi site to be withdrawn from their positions. However, then considering what would happen on the site if all of TEPCO’s technicians from on site were withdrawn, considering the fact that there were six reactors and four spent fuel pools at the Daiichi site itself, this would mean the potential of being—losing control completely of this whole site. Even if the Self-Defense Forces, for example, were sent into the location, sent into the site, of course, they are not trained to deal with nuclear operations.

So, with no TEPCO staff, no TEPCO technicians on site, this would, in effect, mean actually abandoning all of these six reactors and seven pools on the Daiichi site, which would mean in turn that the worst-case scenario could actually become reality. And so, despite the, of course, huge risk that was there, I decided that it was very important to keep the technicians and the TEPCO workers on site for as long as possible to try and deal with the situation.

And why such a slow response from the Japanese authorities, with his government only prepared to evacuate those who lived in the immediate vicinity of the plant? Again, Kan’s response:

[U]pon hearing reports of the fact that the cooling functions at the plant had stopped, the first thing that we did was to evacuate those within the five-kilometer radius of the plant, and then, from here, expanding to the 10, 15, 20 and 30 kilometers, giving instructions for people to remain indoors. And this was done straightaway on the days of March 11 and March 12.

And so, upon the advice and recommendations of experts as we were thinking how to set these evacuation zones, and when and how, one of the considerations was that if the broader evacuation zone had been set right from the beginning, then those who were living closest to the plant, because of transportation and congestion, may not actually be able to leave the area. And so the decision was made to first evacuate those closest to the plant, so within the five-kilometer zone. And then, from there, we gradually expanded to 10, 15, 20 and so on.

At the time, I had been hearing also and we were aware of the instructions which had been given, for example, by the United States embassy and the embassies of other countries for their citizens within, for example, 50 miles to evacuate. However, in the case, of course, from the position of the Japanese government, there are so many citizens living within this area, so to move this number of people all at once was something we had to really consider how this could be feasible.

Finally, Naoto Kan was asked if he felt that the reason nuclear power is still being pushed, even after Fukushima, has to do with nuclear weapons and the production of plutonium? He replied:

In regards to considering countries which are considering or wanting to build new nuclear power plants, I believe that there are two main reasons for this. One is in the situation particularly of countries which are, for example, at the moment reliant on buying natural gas from Russia, wanting to be not controlled or not having to completely follow Russia for this, but to be energy-independent. And so, for example, the country of Estonia, which did actually decide not to build its nuclear power plant, but is perhaps one example of this. And the next major reason, I believe, is also because, of course, if nuclear power plants are built, this also does lead to creation of plutonium. And so, this leads to the latent capability to create nuclear weapons. And so, having this is also one reason that I believe some countries consider building or having nuclear power, so keeping the future possibility of this. And this is a reason which I think cannot be denied.

Adding:

I personally believe that it is important to abolish both of these, both nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants. Of course, in the case of Japan, we do not possess nuclear weapons, so we’re working now here in Japan to prevent or to get rid of nuclear power plants.

This is one of the most interesting and illuminating political interviews I have watched in many years and I would recommend it, but especially to those who remain on the fence about this issue. As Japan tries to take stock of the scale of the Fukushima tragedy, the polluted spectre of its defunct remains ought to serve as both a stark and urgent warning to other nations committing themselves already or else contemplating any future reliant upon nuclear power.

Click here to read a full transcript or to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

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Update:

One of the video clips embedded above has since been removed from youtube. It was a CNN news report explaining some of the difficulties involved in removing spent fuel rods from the site. Here instead is another report from NHK World:

Two of the original posts of the interview were also later removed, so here is another upload of the Democracy Now! interview with Naoto Kan – now in two parts:

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is history about to repeat itself at Fukushima?

At primary school we had a daily assembly, singing hymns and mumbling prayers (my school having been Church of England affiliated), and listening to short stories that served the purpose of a moral lesson by providing our thought for the day. Parables from the Gospels mixed in with tales drawn from Greek myths or Aesop’s fables.

I have long since forgotten most of these stories, aside from the more famous tales of Icarus and Midas, and except, that is, for one story which also lodged much deeper in my memory. It concerned a crisis that came to a small city in Japan where the people and animals had suddenly started going mad and dying. Increasingly numbers falling victim to a mysterious plague, which, due to the strange symptoms, the locals had called “dancing cat fever”.

Minamata, the place of this disaster, now bears the name of its disease. If you type “Minamata” into google you will discover indeed that “Minamata disease” is listed at the top of the search; references to the disease ranking above almost all the other links to general descriptions of the city itself. You will also learn – if you didn’t know already – that the cause of this fatal disease was industrial poisoning; heavy metals, and specifically an organomercury compound called methylmercury, which had been released into the bay by a chemical factory called Chisso Corporation over a period of many decades. A deadly neurotoxin which then bioaccumulated in the fish and shellfish caught and eaten by the local community.

Hearing about the dying cats and the birds falling out of the air and all the people suffering made this one of the saddest stories I had ever heard. Sad not only because it was true, but almost unbearably sad because so much of the suffering (which still continues) was completely avoidable.

For many years, there had been clear and irrefutable evidence that the disease was being caused by effluent released from the local chemical plant, and throughout this time, Chisso were also fully aware of their own responsibility in the poisoning. Instead of cleaning up their operation, however, the management at Chisso took the decision to disguise the facts. Diverting their poisons away from the main outlet into the harbour and then discharging the same effluent more covertly into the nearby Minamata River. Actions that exacerbated the environmental damage whilst deliberately prolonging the agony of the people.

It was this part of the story which carried the important moral lesson, leaving the deepest impression on my still very innocent mind. Such callous deliberation causing me to wonder how people can behave so monstrously to one another.

So now I hear another story coming from Japan. One part of this new story available, for instance, in this Guardian report from yesterday:

The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant said on Thursday another tank holding highly contaminated water overflowed, probably sending the liquid into the Pacific Ocean, in the second such breach in less than two months. […]

The latest leaks show Tepco’s efforts to improve its handling of the contaminated water are not sufficient, Japan’s top government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, told reporters on Thursday. The government will take steps to deal with the water, he said, adding that he thought the situation was under control.1

Click here to read the full Guardian article.

With disturbing echoes of a potentially looming disaster reminiscent of what happened at Minamata having been reported a week earlier:

Local fishermen in Fukushima Prefecture on Wednesday restarted operations suspended late last month after heavy amounts of contaminated water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant was found leaking into the ocean. […]

On Tuesday, the federation decided to resume trial fishing after a string of radiation tests by member co-ops did not find any readings above the government’s 100 becquerels per kilogram safety limit for food products.

Of the 100 fish and seafood products tested, 95 were clear of radioactive material, with the other five containing less than 1/10 of the limit, the federation said. […]

The federation said Tuesday that it would put the catches on sale after confirming that radiation readings for the catch is below 50 becquerels per kilogram — less than half the mandatory limit.2

Click here to read the full report in The Japan Times.

Back in the coastal waters off Minamata, mercury still permeates the sediments and fishing remains prohibited. The city itself has never recovered from the disaster and its dwindling population continue to be divided over attitudes towards the Chisso Corporation and their own victimhood:

Indeed, the environmental disaster that struck Minamata has never really stopped. Though much of the mercury has been dredged from the bay overlooking the Shiranui Sea, the fishing grounds are still dangerously polluted and the fishermen, who numbered heavily among the victims, are gone.

Minamata’s population has declined by a third, to fewer than 35,000, and most of those who are left are elderly. Young people who flee for the cities after graduating from high school say they go to great lengths to conceal their origins because elsewhere in Japan Minamata’s residents are often regarded as “polluted,” even if they do not suffer from Minamata disease.

“You simply cannot get a position in a company if people know you are from Minamata,” said Tsuginori Hamamoto, a leader of one of the many victims’ groups, who is himself confined to a wheelchair because of mercury-tainted fish he ate. “For young people, it is almost impossible to find a marriage partner.” Bitter Divisions

Moreover, the town itself is bitterly divided. Mr. Hamamoto and other victims are constantly pressing for memorials and commemorative museums that they say would restore some dignity to the victims; many other residents want all reminders of the disease swept away in hopes that Chisso, whose factory still dominates the town, will invest further here.3

Click here to read the full article published in The New York Times.

And the latest official message is that it’s safe again to eat the fish from Fukushima. The contamination being within acceptable limits, the authorities say, trying very hard to persuade the world that this horrendous disaster is mostly behind us:

“Let me assure you, the situation is under control,” Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said during lobbying for the 2020 Olympics. “There are no health-related problems until now, nor will there be in the future.”

But why would anyone believe them…? Here is part of a report from the Georgia Straight:

About 800 people worldwide will get cancer from radiation due to Fukushima in fish eaten to date, according to Georgia Straight calculations. The Straight results relied on a widely used cancer-risk formula developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as well as radiation levels in 33,000 fish tested by the Japanese Fisheries Agency.

Half the cancers will be fatal. About 500 will be in Japan; 75 will be due to Japanese fish exports to other countries; and 225 will be from fishing in the Pacific by nations other than Japan.

And that’s likely only a small part of the actual long-term cancer impacts from eating the fish. Two nuclear experts who saw the Straight’s figures said the real cancer toll could be 100 times higher—or 80,000 cancers.

“The potential numbers could be two orders of magnitude [100 times] higher than your numbers,” Daniel Hirsch, a nuclear-policy lecturer at the University of California at Santa Cruz, said in a phone interview. “Hundreds of cancers are nothing to sneeze at, and it is a fraction of what I suspect the total will be.” […]

The Straight also sent its cancer calculations to Eiichiro Ochiai, a retired chemistry professor in Vancouver who taught at UBC and the University of Tokyo and has written a book titled Hiroshima to Fukushima: Biohazards of Radiation (to be released on October 31).

In a phone interview, Ochiai agreed the calculations were done correctly and that the actual cancer toll will likely be higher. He said cancer-risk formulas used by governments underestimate the true cancer impact, especially those cases that arise from eating contaminated food.

“The official data is all denial,” Ochiai said. “The nuclear industry tries to suppress the truth.”4

Truth is that there is no genuinely “safe level” for radiation, just as there is no safe level for inhaling asbestos fibres or tobacco smoke. Nor is there any safe level for consuming heavy metals like uranium. So it seems that perhaps the hardest lesson to be learnt from Minamata (or countless other environmental disasters) is the most straightforward one: that those in authority rarely, if ever, actually care about what happens to you. Instead they lie. First to make money, and then, afterwards, to avoid prosecution and save face. Surely we aren’t so innocent as to believe differently.

1 From an article entitled “Second breach at Fukushima nuclear plant leaks toxic water into sea”, from Reuters, published in the Guardian on October 3, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/03/fukushima-nuclear-plant-leak-japan

2 From an article entitled “Trial fishing resumes of Fukushima after radiation tests” published by The Japan Times on September 25, 2013. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/09/25/national/trial-fishing-resumes-off-fukushima-after-radiation-tests/#.Uk7eDFOwd9Q

3 From an article entitled “Japan and the Mercury-Poisoned Sea: A Reckoning That Won’t Go Away”, written by David E. Sanger, published by The New York Times on January 16, 1991. http://www.nytimes.com/1991/01/16/world/japan-and-the-mercury-poisoned-sea-a-reckoning-that-won-t-go-away.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

4 From an article entitled “Fish data belie Japan’s claims on Fukushima”, written by Alex Roslin, published in the Georgia Straight on October 2, 2013. http://www.straight.com/life/497646/fish-data-belie-japans-claims-fukushima

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Greenpeace and Arne Gundersen blow the whistle on Fukushima

Arnold Gundersen holds a master’s degree in nuclear engineering and is a former nuclear industry senior vice president. He coordinated projects at 70 nuclear power plants around the US, but later became an industry whistle-blower1, also serving as an expert witness for the investigation into the accident at Three Mile Island.2 He is currently the chief engineer at Fairewinds Associates, as well as co-author of the latest Greenpeace report, “Lessons from Fukushima”.

The report’s conclusions begin as follows:

The Fukushima Daiichi disaster has proven that the nuclear industry’s theory of nuclear safety is false. Historical evidence – Fukushima Daiichi, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island – shows a major nuclear accident has occurred somewhere in the world about once every decade. The regular occurrence of reactor accidents contradicts the nuclear industry’s claim that such events would occur only once in 250 years.

CCTV Host Margaret Harrington speaks here with Maggie and Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds about Arne’s recent trip to Japan and their report for Greenpeace about the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. The closing section of the video also features Gundersen’s own theory on why Fukushima failed so catastrophically, and what this means for other nuclear reactors of similar design:

One year on from the Fukushima disaster, and both the British government and the Obama administration continue to call for an expansion of the nuclear power industry. On yesterday’s Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman interviewed Gundersen, who again spoke candidly about the long term legacy of Fukushima, the design failures of the Mark I type nuclear reactors used at Fukushima and also in operation elsewhere, and more generally, about how the economics of nuclear energy is distorted.

Here are a few extracts taken from what he had to say:

Well, I think the first—the first lesson is that this is a technology that can destroy a nation. I was reading Mikhail Gorbachev’s memoirs, and he claims that it was Chernobyl, not perestroika, that destroyed the Soviet Union. And as you look at the transcripts coming out of Japan, we see that the Fukushima accident was on the verge of causing the evacuation of Tokyo. And had the wind been blowing the other way, across the island instead of out to sea, Japan would have been cut in half and destroyed as a functional country. So, this is a technology where perhaps accidents don’t happen every day, but when they do, they can destroy a country.

The other things are the cost is astronomical. To fix this is going to be something on the order of half-a-trillion dollars. All of the money that Japan saved on oil over the 40 years that they’ve had nuclear plants just got thrown away in the half-a-trillion-dollar recovery effort.

And the other piece is the human issues. The health impacts to the Japanese will begin to be felt in several years and out to 30 or 40 years from cancers. And I believe we’re going to see as many as a million cancers over the next 30 years because of the Fukushima incident in Japan.

You know, left to Wall Street druthers—we subsidize their insurance, and we subsidize them on the front end, as far as their ability to build these plants. If it were up to Wall Street and this was a real capitalistic country, we wouldn’t be building nuclear. We’ve basically socialized the risks, but any profits flow to the corporations. […]

I’m on record as saying that we should close the 23 reactors with the Mark I design. Just three weeks before Fukushima, my wife and I were talking, and she said, “Where is the next accident going to occur?” I said, “I don’t know where, but I know it’s going to be in a Mark I design.” These containment vents prove to fail three times out of three. And the NRC’s response is, “Well, let’s make those vents better.” Well, if they just failed three times out of three, it’s hard to imagine how to make something like that better.

In addition, the fuel is stored on the roof, essentially, in unshielded, unprotected areas. And there’s more nuclear caesium-137 in the fuel pool at the plant in Pilgrim, Massachusetts, than was ever released by every nuclear bomb ever exploded in the atmosphere. So we have an enormous inventory of nuclear material way up on the roofs of these buildings, and I think it’s time to close these Mark 1s down, because of those two design features.

Click here to watch the interview and read the full transcript at the Democracy Now! website.

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Greenpeace commissioned Dr. David Boilley, a nuclear physicist with the French independent radiation laboratory ACRO; Dr. David McNeill, Japan correspondent for The Chronicle of Higher Education and other publications; and Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer with Fairewinds Associates, to write “Lessons from Fukushima”. The report, peer reviewed by Dr. Helmut Hirsch, an expert in nuclear safety, reaches three important insights:

1) Japanese authorities and the operators of the Fukushima plant were entirely wrong in their assumptions about the risks of a serious accident. The real risks were known but downplayed and ignored.

2) Even though Japan is considered one of the best-prepared countries in the world for handling major disasters the reality of a large nuclear disaster proved to be far worse than what was planned for. Nuclear emergency and evacuation plans utterly failed to protect people.

3) Hundreds of thousands of people have been deeply affected by evacuations to escape radioactive contamination. They cannot rebuild their lives due to a lack of support and financial compensation. Japan is one of only three countries with a law making a nuclear operator liable for the full costs of a disaster. Yet, the liability law and compensation schemes are inadequate in Japan. Even a year after the disaster began, impacted people are essentially left on their own and Japanese taxpayers will end up paying much of the costs.

Taken from the official Greenpeace press release of February 28th which accompanied the publication of their report: “Lessons from Fukushima”.

Click here to read the Greenpeace report.

1 The following extracts are from a New York Times report about Arnold Gundersen published on February 12th,1995:

“FOR three years, Arnold Gundersen was awakened by harassing phone calls in the middle of the night. He became so concerned about his family’s safety that he bought a large dog for protection. The problem? He was a whistle-blower, one of those who take on the dismally unpopular role of exposing what they find to be unsafe or unlawful practices in the workplace, especially the nuclear workplace.” […]

“Mr. Gundersen, who lives in Warren, told of the day in 1990 when he discovered radioactive material in an accounting safe at Nuclear Energy Services in Danbury, the consulting firm where he held a $120,000-a-year job as senior vice president. Three weeks after he notified the company president of what he believed to be radiation safety violations, Mr. Gundersen said, he was fired.”

http://www.nytimes.com/1995/02/12/nyregion/paying-the-price-for-blowing-the-whistle.html

2 Click here to see Arnold Gundersen presenting evidence for what he calls “the three myths of Three Mile Island” and here to read Gundersen’s report on the Three Mile Island accident.

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is Fukushima ‘under control’ at last?

The BBC news reported today that “Japan PM says Fukushima nuclear site finally stabilised”:

The crippled nuclear reactors at Japan’s Fukushima power plant have finally been stabilised, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has announced.

The article continues:

“The nuclear reactors have reached a state of cold shutdown and therefore we can now confirm that we have come to the end of the accident phase of the actual reactors,” Mr Noda told a news conference. […]

This [cold shutdown] is where water that cools nuclear fuel rods remains below boiling point, meaning that the fuel cannot reheat.

Tepco has also defined it as bringing the release of radioactive materials under control and reducing public radiation exposure to a level that does not exceed 1mSv/year at the site boundary.

The same BBC article cautions however:

But some nuclear experts have said that the repairs made to the plant after the accident are makeshift and could break down without warning.

On December 8th, Japanese Broadcasting Corporation NHK also reported on the efforts being made to establish ‘cold shutdown’ at Fukushima by the end of the year. Focusing on the situation with reactor number 1, where all of the nuclear fuel has melted, the report says that much of that fuel has since leaked into the containment vessel and eroded the concrete at the bottom.

According to Junichi Matsumoto, spokesman for the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), as the fuel in the reactors has cooled, this concrete container has finally stopped eroding. However, many experts remain concerned, pointing out that this latest release of information is probably unreliable. Noriyuki Mizuno, NHK Senior Science Commentator, gave his own assessment (through a translator):

The most important data is the temperature of melted fuel, but there’s no thermometer there, so there’s no way of knowing it first-hand. The government says that the two conditions that must be met to declare the state of ‘cold shutdown’: one is that the temperatures at the bottom of the reactor are kept under 100 degrees Celsius; and [two that] the release of radioactive material has been substantially reduced. But if much of the fuel has already melted through the reactor, the temperatures at the bottom of the reactor may not have much meaning.

Tepco says the air temperature in the containment vessel is 40 degrees Celsius, so the fuel must be cool enough. But I don’t know if such a statement can assure the people of Fukushima. After all, the ‘cold shutdown’ is the state of a healthy nuclear power plant being kept under 100 degrees Celsius, not the crippled plant like Fukushima Daiichi. Tepco and the government should explain the status inside the reactor more in detail by releasing such data as the gas concentration rates in the containment vessels.

Melted fuel is emitting very high levels of radiation, so it must be taken out from the reactor with remotely-controlled robot arms. But if fuel actually melts into the concrete shield of the containment vessel, Tepco would need to develop new technology to remove the concrete around the fuel. Experts estimate it [will] take 15 years to remove the fuel and another 15 years to decommission one unit of the reactor – total of 30 years. Or it may take longer.

Click here to watch the NHK report.

To follow the latest developments on the rescue operation at Fukushima, I also recommend fukushimaupdate.com

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British government involved in cover-up of Fukushima

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.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/14/japan-radiation-leak-cover-up

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.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jun/30/british-government-plan-play-down-fukushima

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.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jul/04/nuclear-industry-stinks-cleaner-energy?intcmp=239

4 From an article entitled “3 nuclear reactors melted down after quake, Japan confirms” from CCN published 7th June.

5 From an article entitled “Fukushima spin was Orwellian” by John Vidal published in the Guardian on Friday 1st July.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jul/01/fukushima-emails-government-nuclear-industry?intcmp=239

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it could take years to bring Fukushima under control

The severity rating of the crisis at the heavily damaged Fukushima nuclear power facility has now been raised to the highest possible level, but the Japanese government continues to downplay the dangers.

Speaking to Democracy Now! on Wednesday 13th April, Dr. Michio Kaku, Japanese-American professor of theoretical physics at the City University Of New York and the City College of New York,  told Amy Goodman:

“Radiation is continuing to leak out of the reactors, the situation is not stable at all. So you’re looking at basically a ticking time-bomb… The slightest disturbance could set off a full-scale meltdown at three nuclear power stations—far beyond what we saw at Chernobyl.”

According to Kaku, who began his career as a nuclear scientist:

“In the best case scenario — this is the scenario devised by the utility itself — they hope to bring it under control by the end of this year… [adding later] then it could take up to ten years… to finally dismantle the reactor.”

“They’re literally making it up as they go along. We’re in totally uncharted territories. You get any nuclear engineering book, look at the last chapter — and this scenario is not contained in the last chapter… And we are the guinea pigs for this science experiment that’s taking place.”

With regards to the future policy on nuclear power, and whether Obama is right to push ahead with the proposed “nuclear renaissance”, Kaku said:

“I think there should be a national debate — a national debate about a potential moratorium. The American people have not been given the full truth…”

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why Monbiot protests too much

In response to criticism of his earlier articles, in which he’d argued that the dangers of nuclear power are being exaggerated, Monbiot’s most recent article now accuses his opponents within the environmental movement of having double-standards. He writes:

“If low-level radiation really was the problem that some environmentalists say it is, the focus of their campaign should be coal plants, not nuclear power. As Scientific American notes:
“The fly ash emitted by a power plant – a by-product from burning coal for electricity – carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy.”
This is because coal contains trace amounts of uranium and thorium, which are concentrated in the ash. Not only does this expose people living around coal plants to higher doses of radiation than people living around nuclear plants; but the regulations for disposing of fly ash are far weaker than the regulations for disposing of low-level nuclear waste.”

Now, Monbiot perhaps doesn’t imagine that many readers will bother to click to the link and read the original Scientific American notes, but any who do will find a footnote with the following caveat:

“As a general clarification, ounce for ounce, coal ash released from a power plant delivers more radiation than nuclear waste shielded via water or dry cask storage.”

Ah, well that’s not exactly a fair comparison then, is it really…

Aside from distorting the truth by cherry-picking his facts, the fulcrum of Monbiot’s argument depends upon on “the importance of the scientific consensus”, which he asserts to be firmly in favour of the industry. He writes:

“We emphasise, when debating climate change, the importance of the scientific consensus, and reliance on solid, peer-reviewed studies. But as soon as we start discussing the dangers of low-level radiation, we abandon that and endorse the pseudo-scientific gibberish of a motley collection of cranks and quacks, who appear to have begun with the assumption that it must be killing thousands of people every year, and retrofitted the evidence to match it.”

The problem with this kind of thinking is, however, that regardless of whether any such a consensus exists or not (and as an outsider I feel unqualified to know), consensus must never be confused with scientific truth. Indeed, whenever push comes to shove in any scientific discipline, and accepted theory is challenged by new findings, it is always the consensus that breaks first. Every scientist accepts this, even relishes it, fully aware that truth, and not agreement, is what finally counts. And every scientist also knows that certainty is a scientific rarity, as science itself merely tightens the gaps in our understanding; gaps that then grow larger again whenever disciplines become more complex.

In this case, we are concerned with the radiological and toxicological impact of nuclear pollution on biological systems. This requires an understanding of what happens when organisms are subjected to external sources of radiation, and also what happens when similar sources become absorbed into the body as poisons. To do justice, therefore, thorough research must involve the study of a varied range of harmful effects, from ones that are fairly immediate, such as death due to radiation sickness, to effects that may cause cancer and other illnesses in later years, and even in future generations. So here is a comparatively new area of study (almost all of the research carried out since WWII) that requires a detailed understanding of relationships between mechanisms that are chemical, physical and biological; given the circumstances then, we might reasonably expect results, and more importantly, the interpretation of results, to be complicated and perhaps even surprising. Basically, we are trying to understand something that is one heck of a lot more complicated than rocket science, which is only Newtonian physics after all, and so discovering the truth may take a little time.1

Intelligent skepticism is an essential and distinguishing feature of all scientific research, and yet Monbiot’s anti-scientific response is to immediately pour scorn upon just about anyone who deigns to challenge the currently accepted orthodoxy. Although, rather than attacking the dissenting view per se, he deploys an altogether cheaper form of assault: a sweeping ad hominem attack that is presumably intended to obscure and deflect attention from Monbiot’s own rather flimsy position as a radiological expert. Such an approach is quite frankly deplorable, but it also laughable…

Take for instance, Prof. Christopher Busby, who is one of the many supposed “cranks and quacks”. Busby, who trained as a chemist, subsequently researched chemical pharmacology and molecular drug interactions – which is obviously a useful platform to start from. By comparison, George Monbiot has a degree in zoology. Meanwhile, Busby, having spent twenty years researching the subject of radiological risk, has actually served as an advisor to both the UK government, and the European Parliament. He has also presented his concerns about the dangers of depleted uranium to the Royal Society. So when it comes to assessing the likely risks from exposure to radiation, and given such a vast gulf in comparative expertise, who is the more likely to be guilty of endorsing “pseudo-scientific gibberish”, Busby, Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risks, or Monbiot, a skillfully articulate journalist?

Here’s what Busby wrote a fortnight ago, with regards to Monbiot’s confidence in the safety of nuclear power:

“Most recently we have seen George Monbiot, who I know, and who also knows nothing about radiation and health, writing in The Guardian how this accident has actually changed his mind about nuclear power (can this be his Kierkegaard moment? Has he cracked? ) since he now understands (and reproduces a criminally misleading graphic to back up his new understanding) that radiation is actually OK and we shouldn’t worry about it. George does at least know better, or has been told better, since he asked me a few years ago to explain why internal and external radiation exposure cannot be considered to have the same health outcomes. He ignored what I said and wrote for him (with references) and promptly came out in favour of nuclear energy in his next article.”

In the same article, Deconstructing Nuclear Experts published on 28th March by CounterPunch, Busby continues:

“Joseph Conrad wrote: “after all the shouting is over, the grim silence of facts remain”. I believe that these phoney experts like Wade Allison and George Monbiot are criminally irresponsible, since their advice will lead to millions of deaths. …

In the meantime, I challenge each of them to debate this issue with me in public on television face to face, so that the people can figure out who is right. For the late Professor John Gofman, a senior figure in the US Atomic Energy Commission until he saw what was happening and resigned, famously said: “the nuclear industry is waging a war against humanity.” This war has now entered an endgame which will decide the survival of the human race. Not from sudden nuclear war. But from the on-going and incremental nuclear war which began with the releases to the biosphere in the 60s of all the atmospheric test fallout, and which has continued inexorably since then through Windscale, Kyshtym, 3-Mile Island, Chernobyl, Hanford, Sellafield, La Hague, Iraq and now Fukushima, accompanied by parallel increases in cancer rates and fertility loss to the human race.”

Committing ourselves to Monbiot’s leap of faith, and trusting in a consensus (one that is substantially informed by the vested interests of a powerful military-industrial lobby2), means pressing ahead with more and more nuclear power plants and dispensing with “the precautionary principle”, which, and especially in light of the unfolding disaster in Japan, at least exposes Monbiot’s own double-standard when it comes to the nuclear issue. If Busby is even broadly correct in his assessment of the spreading and invisible menace of radioactive pollutants, then moving away from our reliance on nuclear power will certainly save a great many human lives; or given the worst case, could, in the long run, quite literally save the planet… now, isn’t that what Monbiot believes in?

1 An open letter to George Monbiot from Low Level Radiation Campaign posted on Friday 25th March.

When nuclear apologists speak the language of dose they speak the language of deceit. If you speak it too, you become one of the liars you say you despise.

Dear George,
In your column in the
Guardian newspaper 22nd March 2011, you announced that the Fukushima disaster has made you stop worrying and love nuclear power. But you say you still hate the liars who run the industry. Unfortunately, ignorance (or maybe laziness) has led you to parrot the nukes’ favourite lie.

The basis of your argument is that as far as we know, no-one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation and you go on to reproduce an explanation of the range of radiation doses we are exposed to. It’s a simplistic classroom treatment which you found on the internet.

Like many simple explanations it is attractive, since it gives the impression that the ideas involved can actually be grasped, for once. This version is all the more attractive because its scope is large – it offers the reassurance that you have all the bases covered, like a dictionary, or a biblical concordance, or any kind of compendium. We have become used to comparisons between man-made radioactivity and natural and medical exposures; we have heard many dismissive statements like our pollution gives you a smaller dose than eating a banana or flying to Tenerife. Now, all of them are rolled up in one picture. How satisfying. And so, George, you picked out a few snippets to make us all feel stupid for being concerned about a few wrecked reactors.

The problem is that the concept of “dose” here is another simplification. For some kinds of radiation exposure it is even a fiction. This is because radiation “dose” is always an average, even for those kinds of radioactivity which only irradiate the DNA of a single cell, or which affect a few hundreds of cells very intensely but do not expose any of all the other trillions we have in our bodies.
The English king Edward II offers an analogy. His wife and her lover deposed him in 1327. They imprisoned him in Berkeley Castle and there he was, supposedly, murdered in the same year. I say supposedly because there is an academic dispute about even this – never mind radiation! Either way, the method his assassins allegedly used made his death the most famous in English royal history; a group of men pinned him beneath a mattress; they pushed a horn into his anus; through it they inserted a red-hot poker. In our analogy with the official view of radiation the King could have ignored the burning poker up his bum, reasoning to himself that the heat it was transferring into his body was, on average, far less than he’d absorbed in his nice warm bath earlier that evening. No-one supposes he did ignore it, but radiation risk practitioners ignore this issue of local exposure and localised damage. The fact that all competent scientific authorities now recognise that it is a challenge creates a paradox.

The Chernobyl disaster shows how big the challenge and the paradox are. Chernobyl contamination was global, but outside the areas nearest to the power station itself doses as calculated on the average dose model were about the same as natural background – say 2 – 3 milliSieverts. At this level there should be no observable increase in disease if the risk model is right. This dogma is repeated endlessly by apologists for nuclear power – After Chernobyl there was no increase in disease that could be attributed to the radiation. Spot the qualifier? They mean no increase that could be attributed to radiation on the bogus average dose model. In fact all are agreed there has been a massive breakdown in health.

The problem faced by radiation protection officials is that reactors create a massive cocktail of radionuclides with widely differing characteristics and different biochemistry. Some concentrate in muscle, some in bone, teeth and DNA, some in lymph nodes. Some don’t concentrate anywhere. Some cause localised damage, others don’t. Radioactivity is like poison – there are many different kinds and they operate by myriad biological mechanisms. Accurate modelling of the biological effects of either radioactivity or poison involves understanding the specific variations, but that makes regulation very complex. For convenience in the 1940s and early ’50s nuclear officials decided to treat the energy of the radioactive decays from all kinds of radionuclide as if they were a uniformly distributed dose. Then they quantified the expected disease, dose for dose, by reference to studies of the Japanese survivors of Hiroshima. These people in fact were exposed to a uniformly distributed dose – the flash of the bomb itself – and the effects of unevenly distributed internal radioactivity were excluded from the study by the clever trick of comparing the “exposed” bomb survivors with “unexposed” people (“controls”) who lived in the city but had been shielded when the bomb exploded. Thus the controls and the study group had equal amounts of radioactive fallout inside them.

It’s a plot so fiendish it is scarcely credible. But George, according to the Guardian, you are one of the UK’s foremost thinkers and environmentalists so you should be able and anxious to check it out. Will you? Consider; if someone asked you what dose of poison is safe wouldn’t you want to know what poison they had in mind – aspirin or arsenic, alcohol or aflatoxin? Wouldn’t you ask a toxicologist about the precise dangers of the particular substance? Don’t we deserve the same scientific specificity?
When you have checked it out, please tell us what you think the future holds for the people of Honshu.

2 If you decide to look up Christopher Busby then there’s a good chance that you’ll come across his biography on Wikipedia. Once there you will find the following:

“He served on the UK Government’s Committee Examining Radiation Risks of Internal Emitters (CERRIE), which operated between 2001 and 2004, ultimately disagreeing with the committee’s conclusions and publishing a ‘minority report’ with another committee member.”

A footnote, which you might presume would take you to the “minority report” in question, in fact does not. Instead it refers you to a document entitled “Reflections on CERRIE” by Richard Wakeford (2004) from the Journal of Radiological Protection 24 (4): 337–340. This document is highly critical of the committee and damning of Busby’s role in it:

“I felt that the first meeting of the Working Group had confirmed my suspicions that we had been brought together largely to consider (and, presumably, endorse) the views of Chris Busby.”

With regards to the ‘minority report’, Wakeford continues:

“I do not believe that a wholly separate document was supported by any scientific need; but I also believe that there exists a political dimension to the ‘minority report’, which cannot be ignored. Chris Busby is essentially an aspiring politician who happens to have scientific qualifications – he is the Green Party’s spokesperson on science and technology and has stood for election to the European Parliament – and, in my view, his actions must be seen in this light. It would be asking too much of him to make substantial concessions on the very issue that has brought the media publicity that provides the fuel to drive a political career.”

So the question you may be pondering now is who is Richard Wakeford. Well, for once, Wikipedia offers no answers – at least not immediately. However if you read the opening paragraph to “Reflections on CERRIE” there’s a clue (highlighted here in red):

“CERRIE membership was an eclectic mix of anti-nuclear campaigners (one each from Greenpeace, the Low Level Radiation Campaign (LLRC) and Green Audit), the National Radiological Protection Board (three members), the nuclear industry (me) and five scientists…”

Look a little further and you’ll discover that this outspoken proponent for scientific impartiality and apolitical neutrality was the CERRIE representative from BNFL (see “affliations” on page 2 of Radioactive Times Vol 6, no. 1. ) and is the current editor of Journal of Radiological Protection.

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nuclear madness?

Following Obama’s commitment to expand the future use of nuclear power, Democracy Now! hosted a debate yesterday between British journalist George Monbiot and Australian physician and environmentalist Dr. Helen Caldicott.

Caldicott, who was author of Nuclear Madness (1979) and Nuclear Power is Not the Answer to Global Warming or Anything Else (2006), insists that there is “an unholy alliance” between the IAEA and WHO to deliberately cover up the health impact of previous nuclear accidents and the dangers of low-level radiation.

Click here to watch the same debate on the Democracy Now! website.

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fallout from Fukushima arrives in UK

BBC News reports that radioactive fallout from Fukushima has now reached Europe and the UK:

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) said it had been informed that an air sampler in Glasgow, almost 6,000 miles from Japan, had recorded the presence of radioactive iodine.

The agency said the value reported was consistent with reports from other European countries such as Iceland and Switzerland.

Low-level traces of radioactive iodine 131 have also been detected in Oxfordshire:

The agency said measurements taken at a monitoring station in Oxfordshire on Monday had recorded trace levels of iodine 131 at 300 micro-becquerels per cubic metre.

The statement added: “This followed reports from HPA’s monitoring stations in Glasgow and Oxfordshire of measurements averaged over the last nine days which found 11 micro-becquerels per cubic metre.”

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) says these levels are expected to rise but not to levels that pose a significant risk to health:

“The dose received from inhaling air with these measured levels of iodine 131 is minuscule and would be very much less than the annual background radiation dose.”

“The detection of these trace levels reflects the sensitivity of the monitoring equipment.”

HPA said that levels of radioactive iodine “may rise in the coming days and weeks” but these would be “significantly below any level that could cause harm to public health”.

For full article click here.

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Monbiot’s strange spin on Fukushima

“You will not be surprised to hear that the events in Japan have changed my view of nuclear power.” So begins eco-warrior George Monbiot’s article from Monday’s Guardian (March 21st). He then continues: “You will be surprised to hear how they have changed it. As a result of the disaster at Fukushima, I am no longer nuclear-neutral. I now support the technology.”

With two explosions, three reactor meltdowns, fires throughout the compound, and radioactivity now spilling out across wide areas of Japan, we are in the midst of the biggest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. One that we must all hope does not become the biggest environmental disaster ever. But Monbiot takes a different view: “A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors began to explode and melt down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation.”

Well I suppose it is easy to be relaxed if you’re lucky enough to be living in mid Wales, and approximately 6,000 miles outside the evacuation zone . But what’s the bit about “poor design and corner-cutting”? Are we being asked to believe that the latent problems at Fukushima were somehow exceptional? I’d always been under the impression that Japan was especially advanced and world-renowned for its technical expertise and excellence. But then perhaps I’m mistaken. Perhaps the reactors in Armenia, Argentina, Bulgaria, China, India, Mexico, Pakistan, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, South Africa, Ukraine, along with those in France, USA and back home really are all designed and built to far higher standards.1

Or is Monbiot simply saying that the reactors being built today will be much safer? For no doubt this is true, with newer technologies in general, making improvements on older designs. But then what do we do with all the unsafe old reactors? And, much more importantly, how safe is safe enough? Because there is no reactor, indeed no technology, that can ever be guaranteed to function without failure. Of course when most of our old technologies fail… well, you know, the lights go out perhaps. Whereas if a nuclear reactor fails, the effects tend to be a little more catastrophic — just ask any of the 50,000 people who once lived in the now abandoned city of Pripyat.

Monbiot rounds his article off saying: “But the energy source to which most economies will revert if they shut down their nuclear plants is not wood, water, wind or sun, but fossil fuel. On every measure (climate change, mining impact, local pollution, industrial injury and death, even radioactive discharges) coal is 100 times worse than nuclear power.” Sorry — did I get that right? Fossil fuels are 100 times worse than nuclear power even when it comes to radioactive discharges! What’s that old saying about lies and damned lies?

The article, entitled “Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power”, plays on Kubrick’s subtitle to his masterpiece of nuclear madness, Dr Strangelove. And I cannot help feeling that Monbiot’s new love is also rather strange.

1For a full list of operating nuclear power plants worldwide click here.

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