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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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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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Filed under Britain, Japan, nuclear power, Uncategorized

an accident waiting to happen?

Greg Palast is an occasional reporter for Newsnight on BBC2. Back in 1988, however, he was directing a U.S. investigation into the nuclear power plant builder Long Island Lightning Company (LILCO). In an article posted today on his own website, Palast says the failure of the emergency systems on the Japanese reactors came as no surprise to him:

“Here are the facts about Tokyo Electric and the industry you haven’t heard on CNN:
The failure of emergency systems at Japan’s nuclear plants comes as no surprise to those of us who have worked in the field.
Nuclear plants the world over must be certified for what is called “SQ” or “Seismic Qualification.”  That is, the owners swear that all components are designed for the maximum conceivable shaking event, be it from an earthquake or an exploding Christmas card from Al Qaeda.
The most inexpensive way to meet your SQ is to lie.  The industry does it all the time. The government team I worked with caught them once, in 1988, at the Shoreham plant in New York.  Correcting the SQ problem at Shoreham would have cost a cool billion, so engineers were told to change the tests from ‘failed’ to ‘passed.'”

Read the full article here: http://www.gregpalast.com/no-bs-info-on-japan-nuclearobama-invites-tokyo-electric-to-build-us-nukes-with-taxpayer-funds/

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Greg Palast, Japan, nuclear power, Uncategorized, USA