FACT SHEET ON FUKUSHIMA
– from Australia’s Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW)
FUKUSHIMA ONE YEAR ON
The Independent Investigation Commission on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident, reporting on Feb. 27 2012 , argues that the Fukushima nuclear crisis was essentially a man-made disaster. It blames systematic failures by TEPCO, the operator of the stricken plant, and weaknesses in the government’s regulatory regime
The Tragedy for the Japanese People:
There are over 110,00 people who has been evacuated. Most of these will be unable to return to their homes for decades, and possibly never. 8 % of Japan has been contaminated by radioactive fallout, and 3 % of Japan is now uninhabitable In addition, there are many people who remain in areas where radiation levels are dangerously high, particularly for children and pregnant women.
For Cherbnoblyl any area above 5 milliSieverts per year (mSv/y). were evacuated and remain prohibited areas. Residents of areas over 1 mSv were given the option of supported evacuation.
After Fukushima the government legislated that up to 20mSv/y was now acceptable. This is despite clear evidence that exposure to these levels over time will significantly increase cancer rates over time. Even using the very conservative figures from the American National Academy of Sciences Biological effects of Ionising Radiation (BEIR 6) report, exposure of children to 20 mSv per year for 5
years is estimated to result in 1 in 30 getting cancer.
Iodine was distributed far too late for thyroid protection for those exposed in the first few days. About 45 percent of 1,080 children in three Fukushima communities surveyed in late March tested positive for thyroid exposure to radiation.
The Lead up to the Meltdowns Poor planning, poor regulation and poor enforcement of regulations led to reactors unprepared for the March 11 tsunami. .
The Japanese nuclear industry has a long history of nuclear accidents and cover ups. The government monitoring agency, the Nuclear Industry Safety Authority (NISA) was a small division within the powerful, pro-nuclear Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). Only after the outcry after the meltdowns occurred was NISA made independent of METI.
Inspection guidelines for anti-quake design took five years and were completed in September 2009, but were never implemented The risk of tsunami was recognised in 1992, but no regulations ensued. In 2008 two separate reports predicted tsunamis greater than the Fukushima Daichi reactors had planned for , but these reports were dismissed as hypothetical
For decades there has been a cosy relationship between the regulators and the power companies with a longstanding pattern of employees moving back and forth between the nuclear power companies and the nuclear regulator. For example , at Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) from 1959 to 2010, four former top- ranking ministry officials successively served as vice presidents at the company.
The Mismanagement of the Crisis At the plant after the tsunami, poor planning, poor training, human error and ignorance compounded the situation.
At the No 1 reactor workers mistakenly believed the isolated condenser was working normally. At the No 3 reactor workers stopped high pressure coolant injection because of concerns about leakage, yet failed to arrange for water to be pumped in as an alternative cooling method.. The plant manager appropriately pumped seawater into the number one reactor at his own discretion, while TEPCO head office had told him to stop. There were many other errors.
Meltdowns at three of Fukushima Daiichi’s six reactors went officially unacknowledged for months. In one of the most damning admissions, nuclear regulators said in early June that inspectors had found tellurium 132, evidence of reactor meltdowns, a day after the tsunami — but did not tell the public for nearly three months as they were concerned about panic.
There were other factors that were also lucky. March 11 was a Friday, meaning there were 6,000 workers there. If it had been on the weekend, there would only have been one-tenth the number of workers. The winds also blew out toward the Pacific every day until March 15, which helped the venting process. Rain also did not fall, which would have brought radiation to the ground with it.
The government chose not release computer predictions about the pattern of spread of radiation till March 23- almost two weeks after the meltdowns. As a result many people evacuated into areas of higher radiation.
In Tokyo prime minister Naoto Kan and senior officials assembled in his fifth floor office as the central decision making body. In the basement below them, a taskforce of senior public servants was established at the crisis management centre under the special measures law relating to nuclear accidents. Both groups initially thought they were in charge and poor communication between the groups severely damaged the response.
What this Means for Nuclear Power
All but 2 of Japan’s 54 Nuclear power reactors are currently offline. Concerns from local governments and insurers are thought to be delaying restarting. Despite cold weather there have been very few power shortages.
Data from Nuclear Test Ban Treaty sites around the world suggest that the meltdowns probably began after the earthquake and before the tsunami. This has major safety implications given many ageing Japanese reactors sit on fault lines. TEPCO have yet to reveal plant data that could shed light on this.
“Until recently, it had been considered political suicide to even discuss the need to reform an industry that appeared less concerned with safety than maximizing profits” (Kusuo Oshima, Democratic Party MP)
Nuclear power plants continue to produce toxic waste that lasts for hundreds of thousands of years. There are still no long term high level waste storages anywhere in the world
Workers inside the plant suggest that in the rush to reach “cold shutdown” by January, poor quality pipes have been hastily laid, increasing the risk of future major leaks
What is Needed Now Financial support from government for those living in contaminated areas in Japan to assist with evacuation, and decontamination. They need access to ongoing health care and monitoring.
Nuclear power to be phased out, and no restarting of the reactors that are currently shut down
Transparency and accountability of TEPCO and the Japanese government. Local governments need support to help their communities.
Japanese electricity distribution networks separated from generator companies, so other companies and sources (eg renewables) can gain better access to the power grid
Prohibition of the export of nuclear power plant technology to developing countries. The Japanese government has recently formed a company with nuclear power companies to make sale of nuclear reactors a central component of a long term export strategy
The Australian government has confirmed Australian uranium was in the reactors at Fukushima, and so is now contaminating Japan. Australia needs to stop exporting uranium. It represents less than 0.3% of exports, and less than 0.02% of jobs. We must not fuel the next nuclear disaster.
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