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International Atomic Energy’s sobering Report on Fukushima nuclear accident

Japan is not the only nation “rearranging the nuclear deck chairs”

The Titanic was also ill-prepared to evacuate its passengers because it failed to consider the unimaginable and thus mismanaged the risk. It seems the lessons of Fukushima are also being ignored in favor of wishing away risk, and hoping for inspired improvisation. There is thus good reason why citizens across Japan are filing lawsuits to block reactor restarts and some gutsy judges are resisting pressure from the nuclear village and siding with common sense.

Rearranging the deck chairs on the nuclear Titanic BY  JAPAN TIMES 20 Sep 15 The International Atomic Energy Agency’s recently released postmortem on the Fukushima nuclear accident of 2011 makes for grim reading and serves as a timely reminder of why the restart of the Sendai nuclear plant in Kyushu is a bad idea.Book fukushima by Lochbaum

When an atomic energy advocacy organization delivers multiple harsh assessments of Japan’s woeful nuclear safety culture and inadequate emergency countermeasures and disaster management protocols, it’s time to wonder how much has really changed in the past five years — and whether restarting any of the nation’s nuclear reactors is a good idea.

In 2012, the government established a new nuclear safety watchdog agency called the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) and it now contends that Japan has the strictest nuclear safety regulations in the world. But is that true? And does it
matter?

David Lochbaum, co-author of last year’s “Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster,” the best book on the meltdowns that I’ve read, likens recent reforms to “rearranging the deck chairs on the nuclear Titanic” He’s not buying Japan’s claim of having the world’s strictest guidelines.

“I’d sooner buy the Brooklyn Bridge,” Lochbaum says. “What would Japan have said about its safety guidelines on March 10, 2011? Would they have conceded that their safety guidelines ranked 23rd worldwide, but that level of protection was good enough for the people of Japan?

“It’s all valueless posturing. No regulator in any country would publicly confess to anything less than the best on the planet.”

Had the NRA existed pre-Fukushima, Lochbaum thinks the disaster would have shown that structure to be inadequate.

“The NRA would have been splintered and its roles relegated to various governmental agencies,” he says.

At the time, however, responsibility and authority for nuclear safety was divided among various agencies, so the government moved to concentrate such powers under the NRA and calls that a solution.

“Disasters are bad and require changes,” Lochbaum says. “That the changes fail to address the underlying problems gets lost.”

However, Japan is not the only nation “rearranging the nuclear deck chairs” to conjure a simulacrum of enhanced safety, and Lochbaum points to an incident in 2008 in Pennsylvania as an example.

“When contract security officers were discovered sleeping on the job at the Peach Bottom nuclear plant, its owner fired the contractor and brought the security officers in-house,” he says. “It was essentially the same group of individuals wearing different emblems on their uniforms. But somehow the different emblems ‘fixed’ the problem and all was well with the world.”

A relevant story since most of the NRA’s employees used to work at the discredited Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, which was blamed for poor oversight and safety lapses due to regulatory capture and servile deference to the utilities.

“It’s more convenient than truthful to blame Fukushima on regulatory capture,” Lochbaum says. “I am unaware of any reactor type operated by any company in any nation that would have survived the one-two punch that the earthquake and tsunami dealt that plant.” Yet, it is disconcerting to know that according to Lochbaum, “Fukushima’s design and operating procedures were not radically different than those deployed worldwide.”……….

The IAEA says there is no room for complacency about nuclear safety, but it fails to call Japan out for a major flaw in its disaster emergency preparedness. It details the need for a proper emergency evacuation organization, training and drills, but under current rules this is the responsibility of local hosting towns, one that exceeds their limited capacity — especially now that the evacuation zones around nuclear plants have been expanded to 30 km. Simulations of evacuations under optimistic assumptions underscore that people living inside the evacuation zone will be exposed to significant radiation because transport networks will be jammed. And if we factor in a volcanic eruption depositing a thick layer of ash and a simultaneous tsunami wiping out coastal roads, the evacuation would be disastrous.

The Titanic was also ill-prepared to evacuate its passengers because it failed to consider the unimaginable and thus mismanaged the risk. It seems the lessons of Fukushima are also being ignored in favor of wishing away risk, and hoping for inspired improvisation. There is thus good reason why citizens across Japan are filing lawsuits to block reactor restarts and some gutsy judges are resisting pressure from the nuclear village and siding with common sense.

Jeff Kingston is the director of Asian Studies, Temple University Japan. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2015/09/19/commentary/rearranging-deck-chairs-nuclear-titanic/#.Vf8lhNKqpHx

September 21, 2015 - Posted by | Japan, safety

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