FoE articles about Fukushima
After Fukushima: Japan's 'nuclear village' is back in charge
Jim Green, 28 March 2015, The Ecologist
Public opposition to nuclear power in Japan remains strong, writes Jim Green, but piece by piece, Shinzo Abe's right-wing government has been putting the country's infamous 'nuclear village' back in control − boosted by draconian press censorship laws, massive interest-free loans, and a determination to forget all the 'lessons' of Fukushima. Is another big accident inevitable?
Public opposition to reactor restarts (and the nuclear industry more generally) continues to exert some influence in Japan. Five to seven of the oldest of Japan's 48 'operable' reactors are likely to be sacrificed to dampen opposition to the restart of other reactors, and local opposition may result in the permanent shut down of some other reactors. Currently, all 48 of Japan's 'operable' reactors are shut down − and the six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi have been written off.
However, slowly but surely, the corrupt and collusive practices that led to the Fukushima disaster are re-emerging. The 'nuclear village' is back in control.
After the Fukushima accident, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) government commenced a review of energy policy. After deliberations in a committee that included more or less equal numbers of nuclear critics, proponents and neutral people, three scenarios were put forward in June 2012 − based on 0%, 15% and 20-25% of electricity generation from nuclear reactors.
These scenarios were put to a broad national debate, the outcome of which was that a clear majority of the public supported a nuclear phase-out. The national debate played a crucial role in pushing the DPJ government to support a nuclear phase-out.
After the December 2012 national election, the incoming Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) government repudiated the DPJ's goal of phasing out nuclear power. The LDP government also revamped the policy-drafting committee, drastically reducing the number of nuclear critics. And the committee itself was sidelined in the development of a draft Basic Energy Plan.
"From a process perspective, this represents a step back about 20 years", said Dr Philip White, an expert on Japan's energy policy formation process.
"A major step toward greater public participation and disclosure of information occurred after the December 1995 sodium leak and fire at the Monju fast breeder reactor." Dr White wrote. "Although public participation was not conducted in good faith, at least lip service was paid. It seems that the current government has decided that it doesn't even need to pay lip service."
The Basic Energy Plan approved by Cabinet in April 2014 contains nothing more than a meaningless nod to widespread public anti-nuclear sentiment, stating that dependence on nuclear energy will be reduced 'to the extent possible'.
Junko Edahiro, chief executive of Japan for Sustainability and one of the people removed from the energy policy advisory committee, noted in November 2014: "Now what we have is a situation where government officials and committees are back to doing their jobs as if the March 2011 disasters had never occurred. They have resumed what they had been doing for 30 or 40 years, focusing on nuclear power ... In Japan we have what some people refer to as a 'nuclear village': a group of government officials, industries, and academia notorious for being strongly pro-nuclear. There has been little change in this group, and the regulatory committee to oversee nuclear policies and operations is currently headed by a well-known nuclear proponent."
'An accident will surely happen again'
Yotaro Hatamura, who previously chaired the 'Cabinet Office Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations of TEPCO', recently told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper that pre-Fukushima complacency is returning.
"Sufficient investigations have not been conducted" into the causes of the Fukushima disaster, said Hatamura, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering at the University of Tokyo.
The Cabinet Office Investigation Committee report called on the government to continue efforts to determine the cause of the nuclear disaster, but "almost none" of its proposals have been reflected in recent government actions, Hatamura said.
He further noted that tougher nuclear safety standards were introduced after the Fukushima disaster, but with the exception of this "regulatory hurdle ... the situation seems unchanged from before the accident."
"It does not appear that organizations to watch [government actions] are working properly", Hatamura said. "There could always be lapses in oversight in safety assessments, and an accident will surely happen again."
Hatamura questioned the adequacy of evacuation plans, saying they have been compiled without fully reflecting on the Fukushima accident: "The restarts of reactors should be declared only after sufficient preparations are made, such as conducting evacuation drills covering all residents living within 30 kilometers of each plant based on developed evacuation plans."
Japan Atomic Energy Commission
In September 2012, the DPJ government promised that a review of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) would be conducted 'with its abolition and reorganization in mind'. The government established a review committee, which published a report in December 2012. After taking office, the incoming LDP government shelved the report and commenced a new review.
The second review recommended that the JAEC no longer produce an overarching Framework for Nuclear Energy Policy. But an LDP committee has reportedly decided that the JAEC will be tasked with putting together a nuclear energy policy that would effectively have equivalent status to the Framework for Nuclear Energy Policy.
Two reviews, very little change − and far from being abolished, the JAEC retains a role in framing nuclear policy. Moreover, the government has proposed that the JAEC, a promoter of nuclear power, could acts as a 'third party' in the choice of a final disposal site for nuclear waste. Some experts who attended a ministry panel meeting in February questioned the JAEC's independence.
Government's massive financial support for TEPCO
Many have called for TEPCO to be nationalised, or broken up into separate companies, but the LDP government has protected and supported the company. The government has also greatly increased financial support for TEPCO.
For example in January 2014 the government approved an increase in the ceiling for interest-free loans the Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund is allowed to give TEPCO, from 5 trillion yen to 9 trillion yen (€39.0-70.2 billion)
The government will also cover some of the costs for dealing with the Fukushima accident which TEPCO was previously required to pay, such as an estimated 1.1 trillion yen (€8.6 billion) for interim storage facilities for waste from clean-up activities outside the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
The government has also amended the Electricity Business Act to extend the period for collecting decommissioning funds from electricity rates by up to 10 years after nuclear plants are shut down. The amendments also allow TEPCO to include in electricity rates depreciation costs for additional equipment purchased for the decommissioning of the Fukushima plant.
Special Committee for Investigation of Nuclear Power Issues
An early example of the LDP government's reconstitution of the nuclear village was the Special Committee for Investigation of Nuclear Power Issues, established by the LDP government in 2013 to monitor nuclear power administration.
A majority of the Committee members double as members of the LDP. "We avoided anti-nuclear lawmakers", said a senior official of the LDP's Diet Affairs Committee.
LDP parliamentarian Taro Kono, a member of a multi-party group of anti-nuclear parliamentarians, wanted to join the committee but was snubbed.
Ironically, the Special Committee was formed as a result of a recommendation from the Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, which was scathing about the sort of cynical cronyism that its recommendation led to.
Media censorship and intimidation
Journalists have been threatened with 'criminal contempt' and defamation suits, and Japan's 'state secrets' law makes investigative journalism about Japan's nuclear industry a perilous undertaking. Under the law, which took effect in December 2014, the government can sentence those who divulge government secrets − which are broadly defined − to a decade in jail.
Benjamin Ismaïl from Reporters Without Borders wrote in March 2014: "As we feared in 2012, the freedom to inform and be informed continues to be restricted by the 'nuclear village' and government, which are trying to control coverage of their handling of the aftermath of this disaster. Its long-term consequences are only now beginning to emerge and coverage of the health risks and public health issues is more important than ever."
Reporters Without Borders said in March 2014: "Both Japanese and foreign reporters have described to Reporters Without Borders the various methods used by the authorities to prevent independent coverage of the [Fukushima] disaster and its consequences. They have been prevented from covering anti-nuclear demonstrations and have been threatened with criminal proceedings for entering the 'red zone' declared around the plant. And they have even been interrogated and subjected to intimidation by the intelligence services."
Lessons learned ... and quickly forgotten
The corruption and collusion of Japan's nuclear village led to numerous accidents before the Fukushima disaster.
And the corruption and collusion of Japan's nuclear village was a root cause of the Fukushima disaster itself. On that point the Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission could not have been blunter: "The accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and TEPCO, and the lack of governance by said parties."
A big part of the post-Fukushima spin is that lessons were learned from the nuclear disaster and improvements made. But the real lesson from this saga is that the nuclear industry − in Japan at least − has learned nothing from its catastrophic mistakes.
As Yotaro Hatamura says, an accident will surely happen again.
Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and editor of the Nuclear Monitor newsletter, where this article was originally published (March 19, 2015 | No. 800). Nuclear Monitor is published 20 times a year. It has been publishing deeply researched, often strongly critical articles on all aspects of the nuclear cycle since 1978. A must-read for all those who work on this issue!
Spinning Fukushima's Second Anniversary
Gavin Mudd and Jim Green, 30/1/13, New Matilda
With the second anniversary of the Fukushima disaster approaching, nuclear supporters around the world are promoting a set of disingenuous arguments. With a full-frontal assault on science and logic they contrive to blame the profound impacts of the disaster not on the nuclear industry but on nuclear critics and independent scientists.
The industry-funded Australian Uranium Association (AUA) sets out these arguments in its first media release for the year. The AUA objects to estimates of the long-term cancer death toll from the Fukushima disaster based on estimates of population-wide (collective) radiation exposure. These estimates include a "very preliminary order-of-magnitude guesstimate" of "around 1000" fatal cancers, another scientific study suggesting "~100s cases" of fatal cancers, and a Stanford University study that estimates "an additional 130 (15-1100) cancer-related mortalities and 180 (24-1800) cancer-related morbidities incorporating uncertainties associated with the exposure-dose and dose-response models used in the study."
So, what's wrong with using collective radiation exposure figures to estimate long-term cancer deaths? Before talking about the real limitations of that approach, let's pause and admire the AUA's explanation: "This method is akin to saying that small rocks thrown at a lot of people will kill some of them because the combined weight of the small rocks is large enough to do so. … In other words, science confirms common sense: small additional radiation exposures for a lot of people will not kill some of them just because the combined radiation exposure is large."
The rock analogy doesn't square with the overwhelming weight of scientific opinion, which holds that there is no threshold below which ionising radiation is without risk. For example:
• The 2005 report of the Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionising Radiation of the US National Academy of Sciences states that: "The Committee judges that the balance of evidence from epidemiologic, animal and mechanistic studies tend to favor a simple proportionate relationship at low doses between radiation dose and cancer risk."
• A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2003 concluded that "the most reasonable assumption is that the cancer risks from low doses … decrease linearly with decreasing dose."
• And to give one other example (there are many), a 2010 report by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) states that "the current balance of available evidence tends to favour a non-threshold response for the mutational component of radiation-associated cancer induction at low doses and low dose rates."
So the AUA's analogy with throwing rocks is silly — yet it is being trotted out ad nauseum by nuclear advocates. The US Health Physics Society uses the rock analogy and adds this gem of an explanation: "… if the most highly exposed person receives a trivial dose, then everyone's dose will be trivial and we can't expect anyone to get cancer." Thus the problem of low-level radiation exposure risk is redefined as a non-problem of "trivial" doses which are, by definition, harmless. It would be too kind to describe that as circular logic — it is asinine (and a reminder that scientists themselves are sometimes guilty of great crimes against science and logic).
While the weight of scientific opinion holds that there is no threshold below which radiation exposure is harmless, there is less scientific confidence about how to quantify the risks. Risk estimates for low-level radiation exposure are typically based on a linear extrapolation of better-understood risks from higher levels of exposure.
This "Linear No Threshold" model has some heavy-hitting scientific support. The above-mentioned study reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences states: "Given that it is supported by experimentally grounded, quantifiable, biophysical arguments, a linear extrapolation of cancer risks from intermediate to very low doses currently appears to be the most appropriate methodology." Likewise, the above-mentioned US National Academy of Sciences report states that "the risk of cancer proceeds in a linear fashion at lower doses without a threshold and … the smallest dose has the potential to cause a small increase in risk to humans."
Nonetheless, there is certainly uncertainty with the LNT model — the true risks could be higher or lower. And, as the AUA trumpets, UNSCEAR and the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) recommend against using collective dose figures and LNT risk estimates to estimate total deaths (even though UNSCEAR itself uses that approach to estimate up to 4000 long-term cancer deaths among the people who received the highest radiation doses from Chernobyl).
The problem with the recommendation from UNSCEAR and the ICRP is that there is simply no other way to arrive at an estimate of the death toll from Fukushima (or from Chernobyl, routine emissions across the nuclear fuel cycle, or anything else). Public health (epidemiological) studies of varying quality will be carried out in Japan, but all face great obstacles. Cancers are common diseases and isolating the contribution of one factor becomes a futile exercise, like trying to find a needle in a hay-stack. Another difficulty is that most cancers are multi-causal. The upshot is that cancer incidence and mortality statistics are being pushed up and down by a myriad of factors at any point in time and it becomes impossible or near-impossible to isolate any one factor.
Given the severe limitations of public health studies, we'd best return to collective dose estimates and the LNT model. By all means we should acknowledge the uncertainties. As the report from the US National Academy of Sciences states, "combined analyses are compatible with a range of possibilities, from a reduction of risk at low doses to risks twice those upon which current radiation protection recommendations are based."
The National Academy of Sciences makes the important point that the true risks may be lower or higher than predicted by LNT — a point that needs emphasis and constant repetition because nuclear apologists routinely conflate uncertainty with zero risk.
The AUA states: "We need to know if people die as a result of the releases." But the AUA rejects the only method of arriving at an estimate of the death toll from Fukushima and fails to suggest any alternatives.
The AUA goes further with this attack: "Those who use collective dose estimates of a Fukushima death toll should bear in mind the negative emotional effect of their advocacy, especially now that the world's premier radiation protection organisations have made clear the absence of a scientific basis for the estimates of the alarmists."
Uranium industry consultant (and self-described "pro-nuclear environmentalist") Ben Heard ratchets up the rhetoric: "Building outrage through tried and true techniques is a known, understood and practiced part of activism. It needs to be called out, named and denounced loudly, clearly and often. They are doing harm. It is, in a word, outrageous."
Rather than untangling that tortured logic, let's finish with a few simple truths about Fukushima. The most authoritative and detailed report to date was carried out by the Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC), which was established by an Act of the Japanese Parliament.
The NAIIC report lifts the lid on the widespread corruption and collusion that led to the Fukushima disaster, stating that the accident was "a profoundly man-made disaster that could and should have been foreseen and prevented" if not for "a multitude of errors and wilful negligence that left the Fukushima plant unprepared for the events of March 11". The accident was the result of "collusion between the government, the regulators and [plant operator] TEPCO".
The report is equally scathing about the response to the disaster. It notes that most of the 150,000 evacuees from the nuclear disaster are still dislocated and they "continue to face grave concerns, including the health effects of radiation exposure, displacement, the dissolution of families, disruption of their lives and lifestyles and the contamination of vast areas of the environment."
Regardless of the long-term death toll, the Fukushima disaster has caused immense suffering and it will be decades before we've heard the last of it. For uranium industry spivs to blame that suffering on "alarmists" using collective dose figures and LNT risk estimates is disingenuous. They ought instead to be asking themselves some hard questions about why they turned a blind eye to the endemic corruption and collusion in Japan's "nuclear village" — corruption and collusion that was responsible for the Fukushima disaster and countless other accidents and "incidents". There was a mountain of evidence on the public record long before the Fukushima disaster.
Gavin Mudd is a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Engineering at Monash University. Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth.
The fallout from Fukushima
ABC Opinion, 2 August 2012, Jim Green, www.abc.net.au/unleashed/4171344.html
Two important reports have been released in recent weeks - one analysing the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and another on the impact of the disaster on the nuclear 'renaissance'.
The report of the 10-member Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAAIC) - established by Japan's national parliament - states that the Fukushima disaster was "a profoundly man-made disaster that could and should have been foreseen and prevented".
The report "catalogues a multitude of errors and wilful negligence that left the Fukushima plant unprepared for the events of March 11." The accident was the result of "collusion between the government, the regulators and [Fukushima plant operator] TEPCO", the report states, and these parties "betrayed the nation's right to be safe from nuclear accidents."
TEPCO "manipulated its cosy relationship with regulators to take the teeth out of regulations." The independence of the regulators "was a mockery".
Those conclusions, based on 900 hours of hearings and 1,167 interviews, contrast sharply with the spin from nuclear apologists that the disaster was caused by the 'unforeseeable' scale of the earthquake and tsunami.
The NAIIC report is equally scathing about the response to the disaster: "Insufficient evacuation planning led to many residents receiving unnecessary radiation exposure. Others were forced to move multiple times, resulting in increased stress and health risks - including deaths among seriously ill patients."
In some cases people were moved to areas with higher radiation levels than the place they started from. Iitate village, north-west of Fukushima, was not evacuated for over a month despite earlier evidence of radiation levels in excess of the evacuation criteria.
A bungled evacuation of 340 patients from a hospital near the nuclear plant was one of many problems that arose because of seriously inadequate emergency planning (which, in turn, was due to hubris, cost-cutting and collusion). Eight patients died after spending almost 12 hours on a bus while about 35 were mistakenly left at the hospital for two additional days. Nearly 600 deaths were caused by fatigue or by medical conditions worsened by evacuation from areas affected by the tsunami and/or the nuclear disaster.
TEPCO failed to give most workers dosimeters to measure radiation exposure in the days after the crisis. A construction company forced workers at the Fukushima plant to cover their dosimeters with lead plates in a bid to stay under the exposure threshold and to prolong their work at the stricken plant. An executive explained: "We judged mistakenly that we could bring peace of mind to the workers if we could somehow delay their dosimeters' alarms going off."
Most of the 150,000 evacuees from the nuclear disaster are still dislocated and the NAIIC report notes that they "continue to face grave concerns, including the health effects of radiation exposure, displacement, the dissolution of families, disruption of their lives and lifestyles and the contamination of vast areas of the environment."
The report states that "the government and the regulators are not fully committed to protecting public health and safety; that they have not acted to protect the health of the residents and to restore their welfare." Add that to the "wilful negligence" that caused the disaster in the first place and it is no wonder that there are regular, large anti-nuclear protests in Japan. A July 16 protest in Tokyo, for example, was attended by 100,000 to 170,000 citizens. Most Japanese opposed the construction of new reactors even before Fukushima.
What a shame that Prime Minister Gillard pronounced last year that Fukushima "doesn't have any impact on my thinking about uranium exports". The disaster and its aftermath provide plenty of food for thought about the wisdom of turning a blind eye for many years to the gross mismanagement of nuclear power in one of Australia's uranium customer countries. Apart from anything else, that blinkered approach isn't good for business. Japan's previous plan to increase nuclear to 50 per cent of electricity generation is in tatters; a cold peace may be achieved at a figure of around 15 per cent.
The 2012 World Nuclear Industry Status Report details the impact of the Fukushima disaster on the global nuclear 'renaissance'. Global nuclear power capacity has been stagnant for the past 20 years - the renaissance has been more rhetoric than reality.
In 2011, seven new reactors started up while 19 were shut down. Four countries have announced that they will phase out nuclear power within a given timeframe: Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Taiwan. At least five countries have decided not to engage or re-engage in nuclear power programs - Egypt, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, and Thailand. Some countries - such as China and India - will continue with nuclear expansion plans but at a slower pace.
Of the 59 power reactors under construction around the world, at least 18 are experiencing multi-year delays and the others are in the early phase of construction with no certainty of reaching completion. Construction costs are rapidly rising. Most of the world's power reactors are edging towards old-age so even if modest short-term growth is achieved, significant new build will be required in coming decades just to replace permanent reactor shut downs.
Last year Iran became the first country to start commercial operation of a new nuclear power plant since Romania in 1996. However Iran's alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons points to the long history of 'peaceful' nuclear programs providing political cover and technical support for WMD programs. More food for thought for our Prime Minister.
Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth and author of a detailed briefing paper on the events leading up to the Fukushima disaster.
More articles ...
One year on, Fukushima is still spinning, 15 Feb 2012
Experts protect a nuclear interest, 16 March 2011
Why Fukushima Was A Man-Made Disaster, 8 March 2012