Sunday, December 01, 2013

we are suffering a slow-motion nuclear war...,

eurasiareview |  As staff member of the Hiroshima Peace Institute you are first-rank witness of the severest nuclear catastrophe of modern times. Fukushima typifies several dangers of all things nuclear: The difficulties to control the technology, the recklessness of administrations, both private and public, and the fact that radioactivity does not respect national borders. How do you see the catastrophe?

RJ: I see the catastrophe as absolutely horrifying and ongoing. There is no discernible end in sight to this tragedy, radiation will continue to seep into the Pacific Ocean for decades. I think that there were many instances of negligence that facilitated the disaster. The design of the reactors and site was bad. The maintenance of the plant was neglected for decades. Adequate emergency procedures were never designed or enacted. In many ways, this highlights the problems not just of nuclear power but especially of privately run, for profit, nuclear power plants. In this case profits are raised by lowering costs, a process which both facilitated and accelerated the disaster. TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) notoriously has neglected its nuclear plants in honour of increasing profitability.

Beyond this, I would say that we also see illustrated here that the decisions to build nuclear plants are national ones, but when they have problems they are always global in scale. When one considers the time scale of some of the radionuclides that enter the ecosystem from nuclear disasters, they will stay in the ecosystem for thousands of years (as will the radionuclides in the spent fuel rods when they operate without a meltdown). These radionuclides will simply cycle through the ecosystem for millenniums. These toxins will remain dangerous for hundreds of generations and will disperse throughout the planet. At Fukushima the benefits of the electricity generated by the plants will have lasted barely longer than one generation while the sickness and contamination resulting from the disaster will last for hundreds.

‘Cold shutdown’ catastrophe
How do you evaluate the government’s handling of the catastrophe, for instance, the fact that only 12 square kilometres around the site have been evacuated?

RJ: The government’s handling of the disaster is a second disaster. Virtually every decision has been driven by two things: money and public relations. The decision to evacuate only 12 square kilometres was driven by concerns of cost and not by concerns of public health. When the government mandates evacuation they incur financial responsibilities. This is why they limited it to 12 km. They made a “suggested” evacuation area of 20 square kilometres.

Why the difference? Mandatory vs. suggested? The area between 12 and 20 km where evacuation is suggested means that the government bears no fiscal responsibility for those evacuees. If they evacuate, it is their own decision, and must be done at their own cost. These people are in a terrible bind. They know that they must evacuate because of the levels of radiation, but they will receive no assistance. Their homes are now worthless and cannot be sold. They are on their own. They have become both contaminated and impoverished. The other thing guiding decision making by the government is public relations.

While they knew that there had been a full meltdown on the first day of the disaster, and three full meltdowns by the third day, they denied this for almost three months. The reason this was done was to control perceptions. They managed to keep the word “meltdown” off the front pages of the world’s newspapers during the period when they were focused on Fukushima.

When the government acknowledged the meltdowns almost three months later the story was on page 10 or page 12 of international papers. This is a success for them. At the end of 2011 they declared the plants in “cold shutdown.” This is insane. The term cold shutdown refers to the activities of an undamaged and fully functional reactor. A reactor whose fuel has melted and is now located somewhere unknown beneath the reactor building, and that must have water poured on it for years to keep it cool are not in cold shutdown. This was just a way of saying to people that the event was over and everything was under control–absolute conscious lies. These concerns, costs and perceptions have guided the government’s response far more than public safety has.