It Could Happen Here

Could the catastrophe that caused the nuclear disaster at Fukishima been predicted?  It not only could have it was. But Japan’s nuclear regulators and utilities not only ignored the predictions but supressed them.

But some insiders from Japan’s tightly knit nuclear industry have stepped forward to say that Tepco and regulators had for years ignored warnings of the possibility of a larger-than-expected tsunami in northeastern Japan, and thus failed to take adequate countermeasures, such as raising wave walls or placing backup generators on higher ground.

They attributed this to a culture of collusion in which powerful regulators and compliant academic experts looked the other way while the industry put a higher priority on promoting nuclear energy than protecting public safety. They call the Fukushima accident a wake-up call to Japan to break the cozy ties between government and industry that are a legacy of the nation’s rush to develop after World War II.

“March 11 exposed the true nature of Japan’s postwar system, that it is led by bureaucrats who stand on the side of industry, not the people,” said Shigeaki Koga, a former director of industrial policy at the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry, or METI, which both promotes and regulates the nuclear industry.

One of those whose warnings were ignored was Kunihiko Shimazaki, a retired professor of seismology at the University of Tokyo. Eight years ago, as a member of an influential cabinet office committee on offshore earthquakes in northeastern Japan, Mr. Shimazaki warned that Fukushima’s coast was vulnerable to tsunamis more than twice as tall as the forecasts of up to 17 feet put forth by regulators and Tepco.

Minutes of the meeting on Feb. 19, 2004, show that the government bureaucrats running the committee moved quickly to exclude his views from debate as too speculative and “pending further research.” None of the other 13 academics on the committee objected. Mr. Shimazaki’s warnings were not even mentioned in the committee’s final report two years later. He said the committee did not want to force Tepco to make expensive upgrades at the plant.

“They completely ignored me in order to save Tepco money,” said Mr. Shimazaki, 65.

But it’s different here in the US, right?  Wrong! (via The Agonist)

Transcript available at The Center for Investigative Reporting.  The same story, the regulators are captives of the nuclear industry placing millions of Americans in danger.

Cross posted at Newshoggers.

Author: RON BEASLEY

19 Comments

  1. Germany has decided to decommission all their nuclear power plants by 2022. France, which relies on nuclear power for fully 3/4 of their energy use, is in the throes of making a decision on further use.

    “Since the Japanese accident, France’s Nuclear Safety Authority (the ASN) released a report announcing a sweeping safety upgrade to all the country’s reactors. The ASN’s report states plainly that a loss of coolant or electricity could, in the worst cases, see meltdowns at nuclear reactors in hours. It also lists many shortcomings found during ‘stress tests’, in which some safety aspects of plants were found not to meet existing standards. It will now require all power plants to build a set of safety systems of last resort, contained in bunkers that will be hardened to withstand more extreme earthquakes, floods and other threats than plants themselves are designed to cope with. It will also adopt a proposal by EDF to create an elite force that is specifically trained to tackle nuclear accidents and could be deployed to any site within hours.”

    In the U.S. “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission ordered major safety changes for U.S. nuclear power plants Friday, two days before the one-year anniversary of the nuclear crisis in Japan.”

    Any concerns?

  2. In the U.S. “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission ordered major safety changes for U.S. nuclear power plants Friday, two days before the one-year anniversary of the nuclear crisis in Japan.”

    Of course they don’t enforce the safety regulations they have now so how are new ones going to help?

  3. Far more people were hurt or suffered long-term damages from chemical plant explosions and other things caused by that tsunami, and it remains that by every objective measure nuclear has shown itself to be far less hazardous to human health and the environment than conventional means or even solar. Public hysteria over nuclear power remains grossly out of proportion to its dangers; what Fukishima did more than anything proved just how incredibly safe nuclear power really is. It’s tragic for Germany (and Europe) that they’ve made this foolish move, and sad that this is being used as yet another attack on the beleaguered nuclear power industry, which has a simply astonishing safety record compared to any other form of power generation, including wind, solar, and hydroelectric (which have all killed more Americans than nuclear power ever has).

    Fortunately, despite hysteria like this, public support for nuclear power hasn’t gone down much, which those of us who are strong advocates for the wrongly-maligned nuclear power industry take at least some comfort in.

  4. I should add that not only have wind, solar, hydro, and conventional all hurt and killed more Americans than nuclear, they’ve killed more people worldwide. That’s because they all have hazards no one likes to look at or talk about.

    The bottom line is that Fukushima proved once again how incredibly safe nuclear is, but in their hysteria and ignorance the media (and tragically, many environmentalist organizations) continue to spread the hysteria, and as a result are harming the environment and creating unnecessary hazards to human health in so doing.

  5. Far more people were hurt or suffered long-term damages from chemical plant explosions and other things caused by that tsunami, and it remains that by every objective measure nuclear has shown itself to be far less hazardous to human health and the environment than conventional means or even solar.

    Dean this is pure BS. The reality is we won’t know for decades how many people will die from Fukishima the other things you mention are pretty immediate. Secondly, I’m not saying nuclear power can’t be safe simply that when it’s not properly regulated as in Japan and the US it’s not. Did you bother to watch the video?

  6. Dean, if you’re going to make a statement like this:

    “I should add that not only have wind, solar, hydro, and conventional all hurt and killed more Americans than nuclear, they’ve killed more people worldwide. That’s because they all have hazards no one likes to look at or talk about.”

    You will need to back it up with credible sources, otherwise it’s not going to be treated as nonsense.

  7. EDIT: That last line should read “it’s going to be treated as nonsense”.

    Sources please…

  8. Ron: I have been intensely reading and watching the nuclear “debate” (if you can call it that, one side having so dominated with fear and demonization) for almost three decades now. So I started watching CIR’s video, but with all the standard pseudojournalistic tricks it starts with from the first moment (love that dramatic scary music and Very Concerned Voice, all the markings of a political advocacy piece or a campaign commercial) I lost interest in about 2 minutes, having the strong impression that I’ve seen this same song and dance too many times before.

    So before I invest another 22 minutes of my valuable time in the rest of the video: is it real journalism, or is it just more scary music and other cheap tricks, like quoting only experts on one side, which has been my experience with most anti-nuke attack pieces done over the last 30 years?

    Also, is the question of long-term health consequences and environmental damages from the chemical explosions that went on at the same time from the same tsunami as hit Fukushima even examined? Are there comparisons to the damages and risks of all the other technologies (including wind and solar) examined at all?

    Just speaking of Fukushima alone, there were an enormous number of people in Japan killed as a result of that same tsunami, but as they involved chemical spills and explosions they got nowhere near the coverage. Aside from those already dead, will those who suffered or are still suffering long-term health consequences from those chemical spills and explosions mentioned, or are they, as in most pieces on this subject, simply ignored while the focus stays on scary-scary-nuclear to the exclusion of all other points of view?

    For that matter, is the long-term safety of all the other technologies (including wind and solar) even brought into it? Or is it all about how horrible Fukushima might possibly happen here, with no perspective at all on how Fukushima compares to things that already happen on a semi-regular basis in the United States that don’t involve nuclear? To give one possible example (there are others) a good start would be to compare a Fukushima style accident here with what happened in the 2008 Kensington Fossil Plant disaster–the Kensington incident being one which almost no one has heard of since it didn’t involve those super scary words “nuclear” and “radation.”

    We still don’t know the exact extent of Fukushima’s damage but the evidence so far is that it’s pretty minimal compared to all sorts of other accidents that occur regularly but do not get anywhere near so much coverage because they don’t involve nuclear power.

    So again, I ask my question: is this worth 24 minutes of my time? Is it real journalism? Or is it just a scare piece using all the standard tricks the news media so often uses to scare people?

    Zephyr: If you want to discuss it with me, I’m happy to oblige, but I have to ask you first to define what is or is not a “credible source” since I’m not interested in getting into a “debate” where contrary sources are insta-dismissed. But you might, for example, start with this extensively referenced piece.

    These are serious issues; how we’re going to power our future is incredibly important. My own view is that the US government should be aggressively pursuing a project of expanding use of nuclear power, including updating all of our current nuke plants to newer, even safer versions of the technology; despite their incredible safety record, US plants could be safer and more efficient still. But we need the commitment to doing the right thing, and that has to start by ceasing to demonize the technology and not trying to simply frighten people.

  9. Do remember: chemical spills and explosions release toxins into the ground, water, and air. You have to look at the damage of those, and they ARE long-term, just like nuclear. You can’t airily dismiss them.

  10. Dean, thank-you for the source, it is appreciated. This is a quote from that source:

    “Rooftop solar is still a hundred times safer than coal and oil power because of air pollution deaths.”

    The reason there is any danger associated with solar power is because the roofing industry itself is inherently dangerous, not because there is anything dangerous about solar energy. As for wind and hydro? They are extremely low on the charts (again, your source) in terms of danger and shouldn’t be equated with conventional (coal and oil) power dangers. Nuclear has potential, but the safety issues, including the potential for accidents much more serious than what we saw in Japan and Russia have to be addressed if it is to be considered a credible alternative.

  11. Following up on Ron’s comment that “The reality is we won’t know for decades how many people will die from Fukishima the other things you mention are pretty immediate,” just happened to read in the Stars and Stripes
    http://www.stripes.com/news/da.....d-1.171120
    that

    “A year after hundreds of U.S. troops ventured into Japan’s damaged eastern regions to bring aid to earthquake and tsunami survivors, the levels of radiation and other toxins detected in and around the places they worked has yet to be released.

    Fears of a massive release of radiation from the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant gripped Japan in the days following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami. In an effort to properly gauge whether U.S. troops and their families living in Japan were being exposed to high levels of radiation, the U.S. military began taking readings at bases all over Japan.

    When troops headed north to render aid in the disaster zone they wore dosimeters that recorded the total amount of radiation to which they were being exposed.

    Environmental assessment teams took hundreds of samples of soil, air and water at disaster-zone work sites, then sent the samples to the U.S. and tested for radiation and a range of toxins, including asbestos, that are known to harm people’s health.

    A year after the disaster, the Department of Defense has not released the data, although officials have stated that troops were not exposed to “unsafe” levels of toxins or radiation.”

    Interesting article — and it only talks about GIs who took every precaution and who were there only for relative short periods of time.

    I hate to even begin to predict the long term risks for the local population

  12. Is it even possible to make a mobile “dirty bomb” made out if chemicals? I thought dirty bombs were made with nuclear material because it’s more harmful than chemicals.

  13. Dirty bombs are not going to harm anyone. One could use powered lead and it’s affects would be just as bad as U235…

  14. More food for thought re Chernobyl:

    “The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the death toll could reach 4,000 civilian deaths, a figure which does not include military clean-up worker casualties.[13] The Union of Concerned Scientists estimate that for the broader population there will be 50,000 excess cancer cases resulting in 25,000 excess cancer deaths.[14] The 2006 TORCH report predicted 30,000 to 60,000 cancer deaths as a result of Chernobyl fallout.[15] A Greenpeace report puts this figure at 200,000 or more. A Russian publication, Chernobyl, concludes that 985,000 premature cancer deaths occurred worldwide between 1986 and 2004 as a result of radioactive contamination from Chernobyl.” – wiki

  15. Dean,

    Thank you very much.

    Most arguments I hear against nuclear neglect three things:

    1) all significant sources of energy are dangerous and their dangers need to be considered as well.

    2) Accidents have occurred at plants with 50 yr old technology. Newer technology is inherently safer.

    3) Even when accidents occurred backup systems prevented the worst. A carefully reasoned argument would discuss that. (no one is advocating building plants like the Soviets did, so Chernobyl doesn’t really apply to the argument)

    Take those aspects seriously, then I’ll take the argument against nuclear seriously.

  16. Dean and others
    This post was not pro or anti nuke, it was about the lack of regulation of the nuclear industry. The same is true of the video if you haven’t bothered to watch it.

  17. Those wanting information about nuclear energy can read all kinds of sources, that go back years and years. Here is one. Note the publisher as well as the author. Unlike anti-nuclear, both are qualified.

    http://www.phyast.pitt.edu/~blc/book/

    There is no excuse since the 1950s for anyone being ignorant about nuclear energy, including why it’s so much safer and cleaner, not just because of what nuclear power is like but because of the extremely high power density that lets it do so much with so little, unlike other ways of making electricity or using power for other things.

    Anti-nuke people are extremely ignorant as often showing other problems. They are in a deep, dark well of ignorance and more, and behave badly. No wonder they’re usually found on the left with politics, where people so often are in those wells.

  18. This post was not pro or anti nuke, it was about the lack of regulation of the nuclear industry.

    Ron, Fukushima and the American nuclear industry certainly had and have regulation, if you define that as regulators empowered to set rules to balance short-term operation against long-term safety and sustainability.

    They obviously failed. But the distinction between “no regulation” and “failed regulation” is important, because the former oversimplifies the problem. This wasn’t a case of absent regulators or regulators putting industry’s interests ahead of the public’s. Meltdowns aren’t in industry’s interest at all, and at the other extreme an expensive, unresponsive industry wouldn’t serve the public’s interest. This was a case of regulators failing to strike the right balance. And it’s not exactly the first such case to make the news.

    So if you mean to characterize this as a case of “no regulation” that, by implication, can simply be fixed by adding regulation, how do you propose to do so? Where will you find the regulators free of the crippling flaws of those that keep making the news?

    Wouldn’t it be simpler to fix the flaws in the reactor design? Reactors are at least more predictable.

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