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    Japan
     Aug 5, 2011


Page 2 of 2
Engineer dismantles facade
of Japan's nuclear industry

By Koide Hiroaki

I don't know how many people are responsible for the Monju with the government - the Atomic Energy Commission, the Nuclear Safety Commission, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, then the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, and so forth. But suppose 100 people responsible, each should be sentenced to 100 years in prison. This fraud is enormous, but no one has taken any responsibility for it so far. That's the reality. It seems to me that the nuclear energy business is extremely abnormal.

Next, I would like to talk about the ongoing accident in Fukushima.

The supposedly invincible 'five barriers' that failed
Though I think most of you are already familiar with this matter, nuclear power generation is a technology that deals with huge amounts of radioactivity. Please look at the small square at the

 
lower left corner here. This is the amount of uranium that burned when the Hiroshima atomic bomb exploded: 800 grams. That amount, which you can easily lift by hand, burned and annihilated the city of Hiroshima.

 

Now, how much uranium is necessary for nuclear power generation? It requires one ton of uranium to run one nuclear power plant for one year. This gives you an idea of the enormity of the highly radioactive fission byproducts generated as a nuclear power plant operates.

A nuclear plant is a machine. It is expected that machines go wrong and cause accidents. It is we humans who operate the machine. Humans are not God. It is only natural that humans make mistakes. No matter how we wish that no accidents occur, there is always the possibility of a catastrophe. So what measures did the nuclear policymakers take to deal with the possibility of accidents? They just assumed catastrophic accidents would seldom occur. So they decided to ignore the possibility by labelling it as an "inappropriate assumption".

Here's how they denied the possibility of catastrophic accidents. I took this illustration from the website of Chubu Electric Power. They claim that there are multiple barriers to keep radioactivity from leaking out. The most important barrier of them all is the fourth one, the reactor containment vessel. This is a huge vessel made of steel, and they adopted the idea that this vessel can always contain radioactivity, regardless of what happens.

 
They claim that, according to the Guidelines in Reactor Site Evaluation, they have serious accidents, or "virtual accidents of a fairly serious kind" in mind. According to their claim, even if such an accident occurs, there is absolutely no possibility of the containment vessel, the final barrier to contain radioactivity, being breached. A radioactive leak would be impossible. Therefore, nuclear power plants are safe under any circumstance whatsoever, and any other assumption is an "inappropriate assumption".

But a catastrophic accident has actually occurred, and is still going on. Tragic events are underway in Fukushima, as you all know. And the government's responses to the ongoing accident have, in my view, been highly inappropriate. The government hid information and delayed evacuation.

The principle of disaster prevention should be about taking preemptive measures on the basis of a reasonable overestimation of risks in order to protect people. If it turns out to really be an overestimation so that such measures are not necessary, that is okay too, because people will not have been harmed.

However, what the Japanese government has actually been doing is the opposite: it has underestimated the risks and acted on optimistic assumptions. First, they said it was a Level 4 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale and stuck to that for a long time. Then they raised it to Level 5, but it was not until the last moment that they admitted that it was a Level 7 accident. Their response was way too late.

The government also delayed decisions in evacuation directives. First, they evacuated those within a three-kilometer radius, saying it was a precautionary order for the worst case scenario. Then soon after, they evacuated those within a 10 km radius, again saying this was a "just in case" measure. Then they expanded the evacuation zone to the 20 km radius, again saying that this was preparing for the worst. In fact, they were all belated, reactive measures, instead of being precautionary.

I believe disclosing accurate information is the only way to avoid panic. That way people would trust the administration and the government. However, the Japanese government acted in the opposite way. They consistently hid information, repeatedly saying that the situation was not critical.

The government spent more than 10 billion yen in the last 25 years to develop the radiation dispersion simulation system called SPEEDI (the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information), but they hid the simulation results from the public and did not let local residents know the risks.


Government officials listen to Koide's presentation.

The government has also been forcing plant workers and local residents to sacrifice without making clear who is responsible. They have raised the radiation dose limit for the workers at Fukushima Daiichi. They have also raised radiation dose limits for local residents in deciding on compulsory evacuation. Are they really allowed to do such things? I find myself at a loss when I think about the true scale of the damage caused by the Fukushima Daiichi accidents.

If we apply the current Japanese law strictly, we would have to abandon an area that would be as large as the whole prefecture of Fukushima. The only way to avoid this is to raise the radiation dose limit for residents, and that would mean forcing increased radiation exposure on residents.

I think that primary industry will suffer tremendously. Agriculture and fishery among others will have difficulty selling their produce and their catch. Residents will be forced out of their homeland and their lives will be shattered.

Some say we should make TEPCO [Tokyo Electric Power Company, which ran the Fukushima plant] pay proper compensation. But no matter what they pay, or even if they pay to the extent that they go bankrupt, it will not be sufficient. Even if TEPCO goes bankrupt multiple times, it will not be enough. The damage from the accident will be so enormous that even the whole country of Japan going bankrupt might not pay for it. This of course is if they are really going to pay for the damage.

The seven sins of nuclear power
In closing, I would like to quote the "seven social sins" that Mahatma Gandhi warned against, and which are inscribed on his tombstone.

The first is "Politics without Principle". To those who gathered here today, I would like you to take these words deeply to heart. Gandhi's other sins, such as "Wealth without Work," "Pleasure without Conscience," "Knowledge without Character," "Commerce without Morality," all apply to electric power companies, including TEPCO.

And with "Science without Humanity", I would challenge academia and its all-out involvement with the nation's nuclear power policy, and that includes myself.

The last one is "Worship without Sacrifice." To those who have faith, please take these words to heart, too. Thank you very much.

Introduction and translation by Sakai Yasuyuki and Norimatsu Satoko

Notes
1 See "In Japan, nuclear bestsellers reflect new debate," The Washington Post with Foreign Policy, July 19, 2011.
2 See "Information sources in languages other than Japanese on the issue of Fukushima’s children and allowable radiation dosage," Peace Philosophy Centre, May 29, 2011.
3. Part I and Part II of the YouTube links of his 15-minute talk.)

Koide Hiroaki is Assistant Professor at the Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute. He is the author of Genpatsu wa iranai (We don't need nuclear power plants), Gentosha Runessansu Shinsho, July 2011), Genpatsu no uso (The Lie of Nuclear Power), Fusosha Shinsho, June 2011, and Kakusareru genshiryoku - kaku no shinjitsu (Hidden truths of nuclear power), Soshisha, January 2011).

Sakai Yasuyuki is an engineer based in Aichi prefecture, working for one of the largest automotive parts suppliers. He studied Ecological Economics, Values & Policy at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Norimatsu Satoko, a Japan Focus Coordinator, is Director of Peace Philosophy Centre. She leads youth and community members in learning issues such as historical reconciliation in Asia, nuclear disarmament, and US military bases in Okinawa.


(Republished with permission from Japan Focus.)

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