The following report from Richard Wilcox in Tokyo, Japan was originally posted at Counterpunch.org, an alternative news organization which has done some exceptional reporting on the Fukushima nuclear crisis, especially the manmade part of this ongoing disaster.
It is also important to point out that since the writing of this piece, it has been disclosed that there have been at least three (3) nuclear meltdowns at nuclear reactor units 1, 2 and 3 at the Fukushima nuclear power plant complex as per the link below:
Report From Japan: Nuclear Power’s Future In Doubt Amidst Fukushima Crisis
by RICHARD WILCOX
May 3, 2011
“The Fukushima nuclear disaster is one of the greatest industrial disasters of modern times – brought about by people who promised “safety,” should have known better, and refused to listen to anyone with a differing opinion. The level of complicity, duplicity, stupidity, and lack of humility and human sympathy, boggles the mind.” – Tony Boys, Ecologist and farmer who lives 75 miles downwind from the Fukushima disaster
About two months have passed since the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan, which was followed by the level 7 nuclear accident at the Fukushima No. 1 power station.
What progress has been made to stabilize the dangerous situation? The major question of cooling the reactors is still far from solved. Given the high levels of radiation in the reactor buildings, workers cannot just prance in there while listening to Bach on their ipods and turn a few nuts and bolts. A few weeks ago Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) admitted it would take 6 to 9 months to stabilize the situation (1), and Toshiba, another company involved with the facilities said it would take 10 years to decommission the power station (2). Yet, cooling the reactors is fraught with difficulty as they presently try to cool the No. 1 reactor. “Workers have already pumped in more than enough water to fill the containment vessel, but they have not actually seen a rise in the water level….when workers increased the amount of water pumped into the containment vessel, pressure inside the vessel fell, threatening a hydrogen explosion.” (3). It is anyone’s guess but is the water leaking down into the ground below the reactor site? What goes in must go out.
Over the last several weeks the government news outlet, NHK World, has reported about the contamination of water that has been sprayed onto reactors and difficulties in attempting to remove water and its storage; the leaking of highly radioactive water into groundwater and the ocean; contamination of land, crops and even breast milk in areas in the vicinity and dangers to residents in Fukushima; ongoing problems and potential dangers with the reactors due to damaged fuel rods, breaches in containers and the weakened state of the reactors themselves; and problems with the No. 4 spent fuel rod pool which holds enormous amounts of radioactive waste (4). More hopeful news is that “[w]orkers have begun a plan to….install equipment that will help to cool down the reactor….[it] is designed to filter out 95 percent of the radioactive substances in the air coming through the ducts…” (5). A main obstacle has been high radiation in the work areas which has prevented rapid progress.
Japan also continues to bolster safety measures that are badly needed to back up generators in case of another large earthquake or power outage. Many small steps toward progress are being made but the question remains whether the 9 month plan can be met on time. Seismologists are worried of the distinct possibility that another large earthquake could knock out more of Japan’s precariously situated nuclear reactors (6). For example, the Hamaoka powerstation is located 125 miles southwest of Tokyo (7). Yet until recently, “[m]ost nuclear reactors in Japan would fail to achieve a stable condition in the event that all regular power sources are lost, even though plant operators have prepared new backup power sources as well as electric generators amid the crisis…” (8).
Are Japanese Finally Waking Up?
It is easy to be pessimistic. As a teacher I have to combat student apathy and unwillingness to think critically. Nothing new there really, we are all the product of media directed self obsession with greed, celebrity and inanity. As one thoughtful journalist has noted,
“I am afraid that a sharply decreasing number of Japanese people have the mindset and sensitivity for living in harmony with others and feeling compassion toward others as well as the ability to imagine how others suffer” (9).
But because of the disaster, Japan’s unquestioned imperative of economic growth is finally being questioned. A retired politics professor writes that “we must abandon our conventional belief in the necessity of the economy’s continued growth. I believe this will have a huge effect, not only on modern society that is supported by science and technology, but also on society’s faith in economic growth itself” (10). These kinds of discussions questioning nuclear power can be heard more often these days from Japanese TV news commentators and panels and read in the op-ed columns of Japan’s newspapers.
Osaka journalist, Kosuke Hino, who has investigated Japan’s “closely-knit nuclear establishment” for years provides a searing critique of industry arrogance, but also of our own complicity:
“The excuses made by the organizations involved go to show that so-called nuclear power experts have no intention to self reflect or admit their shortcomings. It was this self-righteousness — evidenced over the years in the industry’s suppression of unfavorable warnings and criticisms….that lay down the groundwork for the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant….We are guilty of having relegated — up until now — the issue of nuclear energy as a world away, and a field best left to “experts”…” (11).
But even a TEPCO vice president has now admitted the disaster was “man made” and should have been prevented by those in charge (12). Prime Minister Kan’s special advisor for the nuclear crisis has also suddenly quit, which is unusual, complaining that “[t]he government has belittled laws and taken measures only for the present moment, resulting in delays in bringing the situation under control” (13). And because of this some Japanese are showing their anger. NHK has reported on any number of organized groups of fisherman, farmers, evacuees and the public protesting TEPCO and government malfeasance by marching in demonstrations and holding protests outside TEPCO and government offices (ibid.). On May Day Japan’s labor unions called for an end to nuclear power (14). Even though the old clod, Tokyo governor Ishihara– who blamed the earthquake on the people of Japan yet is steadfastly pro-nuke– won reelection; Osaka’s feisty governor Hashimoto has vowed to “scrap nuclear power generation” (15).
New nuke plants are being reconsidered worldwide, including in India and Italy, while in Germany the complete phasing out of nukes has long been on their agenda. Although US President Obama has remained aloof throughout the crisis, Russian Prime Minister Putin wondered why the Japanese “build their plants in seismic zones” due to the obvious dangers (16).
Some Japanese Diet members are calling for a shift to alternative energy by abandoning nuclear in favor of solar and wind power. “But the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, which pushes exports of nuclear power technology as part of the nation’s economic growth strategy, is reluctant to pursue a major policy change” (17). Yet even Tohoku Electric Power Company shareholders, out of pecuniary versus moral reasons, no doubt, “want nuclear plants closed” (18). Interestingly, in Tokyo where the most people benefit from nuclear power, but do not suffer direct consequences as in Fukushima, there is still no call for such measures from Tokyo Electric.
Fukushima: A Nail In The Nuke Coffin?
The skull and crossbones has become a fashion rave in recent years, even seen on toddler’s t-shirts. Why can’t nuke plants have huge Jolly Roger flag’s proudly flying from their station roofs? Below them could read a banner: PIRATING YOUR FUTURE FOR PROFIT.
Retired nuclear engineer Arnold Gunderson has indicated that even if Fukushima is not the final nail in the coffin, it is a defining moment in an already moribund industry (19). Indeed, in a fact-filled report from the Worldwatch Institute entitled, “Nuclear Power in a Post-Fukushima World,” revealing statistics and thorough analysis show that the nuclear industry fails economically since it is costly, inefficient, and heavily reliant on subsidies. “In 2010, for the first time, worldwide cumulated installed capacity of wind turbines, biomass and waste-to- energy plants, and solar power” outpaced “the installed nuclear capacity prior to the Fukushima disaster.” We also learn that the US, France and Japan are the top three nuclear powered countries in terms of electricity production; and that 30 countries are operating 437 nuclear reactors in the world which produce 13 percent of the world’s electricity. Energy expert Amory Lovins stingingly states in the preface:
“Since new nuclear build is uneconomic and unnecessary, we needn’t debate whether it’s also proliferative and dangerous. In a world of fallible and malicious people and imperfect institutions, it’s actually both. But even after 60 years of immense subsidies and devoted effort, nuclear power still can’t clear the first two hurdles: competitiveness and need. End of story” (20).
Alas, before the Beast from Hell can die there is much long term harm to be rendered. Professor of politics Anthony Hall reminds us that:
“Hundreds of thousands of tons of highly-radioactive spent nuclear fuel rods are stored at nuclear power stations in Japan, USA and most other nuclearized countries. This form of nuclear waste remains highly toxic for hundreds of thousands of years“ (21). As venerable nuke critic Russell “Ace” Hoffman warned years ago: “There is no known scientific method for the safe storage and disposal of nuclear waste” (22).
Hall’s exhaustive research, “From Hiroshima to Fukushima, 1945-2011” (ibid.), cites scholarly literature (23) that irrefutably supports the assertion of there being an historical connection and geopolitical strategy to nuclear weapons and power. Hall notes that “[o]ne of the primary motivations for building nuclear power plants in the first place has been to produce the plutonium needed for the construction of nuclear weapons. This overlapping of functions continues yet.” The nuclear proliferation implications of Japan’s plutonium and uranium enrichment program are also of concern to watchdog groups in Japan working on nuclear energy issues, as examined in this article titled, “Nuclear Power and Nuclear Weapons – the Unbreakable Connection” (24).
There is the added problem of worker health. Apparently pro-nuke politicians are not volunteering to pitch in with a helping hand, nor are those of the general public who hypocritically approve of nuclear power. TEPCO announced it is seeking another 3,000 workers on top of the 1,000 already employed to work at the dangerously radioactive Fukushima No. 1 power station (25).
Not only is this an atrocious human rights violation but it throws into question how the workers will be able to endure the situation if it lasts for many months, if not years. Workers already suffer mental and physical exhaustion and unhealthy radiation exposure.
French professor Paul Jobin notes that nuclear reliant France uses contract workers for 80 percent of their jobs:
“[I]n 2009, Japan’s nuclear industry recruited more than 80,000 contract workers against 10,000 regular employees. The initial goal was not necessarily to hide the collective dose, but to limit labor costs. But the fact is that whether in France or Japan, the nuclear industry nurtures a heavy culture of secrecy concerning the number of irradiated workers. Rumor has it that many of the cleanup workers are burakumin. This cannot be verified, but it would be congruent with the logic of the nuclear industry and the difficult job situation of day laborers…” (26).
The Citizens Nuclear Information Center in Tokyo reports that “[a] characteristic feature of the Japanese nuclear industry is [that] 96% of the total radiation dosage [is] borne by subcontracted workers. Those who have possibly been exposed to large radiation dosages, foreign nationals and those without a certificate of residence” are not included in epidemiological studies by the nuclear industry (27).
The Radiation Debate: MEXTed and Miffed
I have studied the radiation readings taken by MEXT, Japan’s ministry of science and technology, and found that indeed radiation levels in Tokyo have gone up since the Fukushima disaster took place. They remained consistently higher than readings before the explosions at the reactors in mid-March. Also, if one looks at the levels in the far northern and southern parts of Japan, those levels have consistently remained lower than in the Tokyo region (28).
According to the “Low Level Radiation Campaign,” the evacuation zone in Japan should be drastically widened (29). However, I analyzed their statements and found an incongruity in their conclusion. As of April 11th their site reports:
“Advice for the people of Japan – Large areas of Japan are contaminated to measured levels around 1 microsievert per hour. This figure is just for Caesium 137…”
LLRC is basing their statements on the MEXT charts and yet this is not proven by those same charts. The only areas with 1 microsievert per hour or higher (in some cases much higher) are around the Fukushima power station, especially the northwest area. What we see from the MEXT site by following the date and region is that before the Fukushima explosions, normal background radiation was generally about .05 microsieverts per hour in most places; after the explosions of mid-March there was a big spike, including the prefectures around Fukushima. In the closest prefecture to the south of Fukushima, Ibaraki, levels spiked to 1.5 microsieverts per hour, and in Tokyo the highest level reached .5 microsieverts per hour. In most places in Japan levels have not been above 1 microsievert per hour and if they had, have since gone down. It is true that in Tokyo levels have remained at about .2 per hour as opposed to the previous normal background level of .05 per hour (ibid.). But in other prefectures around Tokyo unusual radiation is almost undetected.
Whether increased radiation in various locations is dangerous or not I will leave it for health experts to debate. That said, I am certainly not inclined to believe nuclear apologists, nor do I want to ingest any more of the damnably unstable atoms than I have to!
At The Site
There are still high levels of radiation inside Fukushima’s damaged reactor buildings– upwards to 1,120 millisieverts per hour in at least one the buildings (30). This is vastly higher than radiation levels detected outside the power station itself.
Where is it traveling? Maybe Homeland Security can grope and tazer the damnably unstable atoms for the sake of public safety. The Japanese government has still not released all computer data of the “actual radiation measurements at various locations and weather conditions.” (31).
Chris Busby who is an expert in low level radiation for the European Union has claimed that Fukushima is releasing 100 Terabecquerals per day (32). On April 13th it was reported that according to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency – 370,000 terabecquerels had been released while the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan separately estimated the amount at 630,000 terabecquerels (30). Further, TEPCO estimated that over six days in April 520 tons of radioactive water measuring 4,700 terabecquerels, accidentally leaked into sea (33). If we can rely on government estimates this put the total amount of radiation at about 10 – 20 percent the amount released during Chernobyl, while increasing at a possible rate of 100 terabecquerals per day (34).
Arnold Gunderson claims the greatest dangers are that the Japanese authorities are downplaying the severity of the situation, both in terms of how to fix the power station and the radiation’s effects on those living in its vicinity (and farther away, of course). He also suspects that contaminated water is leaking from the power station into groundwater (ibid.). The bio-accumulation and magnification of pollutants is not only a concern for those living in Fukushima prefecture, but everyone else in Japan (and the world) who consume food and water from the region. And yet on the very day that it was announced that the Fukushima disaster was level 7–the same severity as Chernobyl–the Japanese official in charge was in Fukushima eating strawberries to promote a festival (ibid.)!
Thank You Nookle-Heads: Japan’s Economy In The Dumps
Setting aside the worries of when the crisis will subside, recent headlines tell another story:
“Joblessness adding to woes / Companies dismissing workers, but most have nowhere to turn”; “Japan’s industrial output marks record plunge”; and “Japan’s household spending marks record drop” (35; 36; 37). Ironically, just as the Middle Eastern part of the world is entering a prolonged period of geopolitical chaos, can anyone imagine the rogue nuclear state of Israel (38) handing over millions of dollars to help the beleaguered Japanese? Somehow, I don’t think so. Yet, those awful Muslims that everyone loves to hate have pitched in “100 million dollars to rebuild Japan” (39).
Thank you Mohammed, and may peace be upon you. ~~~
1. TEPCO issues 6-9 month containment plan http://www3.nhk.or .jp/daily/english/17_15.html
2. Reactor makers draft 10-year decommission plan http://www3.nhk.or .jp/daily/english/14_38.html
3. TEPCO faces uphill battle in filling nuclear reactor containment vessel with water http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20110502p2a00m0na012000c.html
4. NHK World http://www3.nhk.or .jp/nhkworld/
5. Work underway to filter air in reactor bldg http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/02_11.html
6. On the Danger of a Killer Earthquake in the Japanese Archipelago http://www.counterpunch.org/takashi04252011.html
7. Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamaoka_Nuclear_Power_Plant
8. Power for reactor cooling lacking Nuke plants’ backups fall way short http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20110426x1.html
9. Aid from around the world sheds light on Japan’s inward-looking attitude http://www.asahi.com/english/TKY201104300109.html
10. 3/11 shatters modern Japan’s blind faith in economic growth http://www.asahi.com/english/TKY201104220236.html
11. How did Japan’s nuclear industry become so arrogant? http://mdn.mainichi.jp/perspectives/news/20110425p2a00m0na006000c.html
12. TEPCO official: Fukushima is man-made disaster http://www3.nhk.or .jp/daily/english/01_09.html
13. Kan nuclear adviser fed up, quits http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20110501a2.html
14. Japan unions in May Day call to end nuclear power http://www.nuclearpowerdaily.com/reports/Japan_unions_in_May_Day_call_to_end _nuclear_power_999.html
15. Osaka governor vows to scrap nuclear power generation http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20110428p2a00m0na011000c.html
16. Putin criticises Japanese nuclear industry http://www.nuclearpowerdaily.com/reports/Putin_criticises_Japanese_nuclear_indu stry_999.html
17. Diet group to study group to study shift from nuclear to natural energy http://www.asahi.com/english/TKY201104260123.html
18. Shareholders want nuclear plants closed http://www3.nhk.or .jp/daily/english/01_19.html
19. Russia Today: Gundersen First to Say Fukushima Worse than Chernobyl http://vimeo.com/22960877
20. Nuclear Power in a Post-Fukushima World http://www.worldwatch.org/system/files/WorldNuclearIndustryStatusReport2011_ %20FINAL.pdf
21. From Hiroshima to Fukushima, 1945-2011: A Nuclear Narrative of Hubris and Tragedy http://www.veteranstoday.com/2011/03/28/from-hiroshima-to-fukushima-1945- 2011/
22. Russell D. Hoffman (2003). “Facts About Nuclear Power,” Fact sheet.
23. Rodney P. Carlisle and Joan M. Zenzen, Supplying The Nuclear Arsenal: American Production Reactors, 1942-1992, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1996)
24. Nuclear Power and Nuclear Weapons – the Unbreakable Connection http://www.cnic.jp/english/newsletter/nit138/nit138articles/exports.html
25. More workers to be sent to Fukushima http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/01_11.html
26. Dying for TEPCO? Fukushima’s Nuclear Contract Workers http://globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=24543
27. Epidemiological Study of Workers at Nuclear Power Generating Facilities http://www.cnic.jp/english/newsletter/nit141/nit141articles/epidem.html
28. Ministry of Education,Culture,Sports,Science & Technology in Japan Reading of environmental radioactivity level by prefecture http://www.mext.go.jp/english/incident/1303986.htm
29. The Low Level Radiation Campaign. http://www.llrc.org/
30. Radiation level of 1,120 millisieverts per hour detected in damaged reactor building
31. Belated release of radiation forecast data http://www3.nhk.or .jp/daily/english/02_32.html
32. Busby: Can’t seal Fukushima like Chernobyl – it all goes into sea http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-3Kf4JakWI&feature=player_embedded
33. Fukushima crisis now at Chernobyl level http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20110413a1.html
34. TEPCO estimates 520-ton radioactive water into sea http://www3.nhk.or .jp/daily/english/21_35.html
35. Joblessness adding to woes / Companies dismissing workers, but most have nowhere to turn http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T110428007357.htm
36. Japan’s industrial output marks record plunge http://www3.nhk.or .jp/daily/english/28_26.html
37. Japan’s household spending marks record drop http://www3.nhk.or .jp/daily/english/28_30.html
38. Israeli Nuclear Weapons Estimates http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/israel/nuke/
39. Qatar to give 100 million dollars to rebuild Japan http://www3.nhk.or .jp/daily/english/28_02.html