Sarah Parker and Terry Conway
Kenzamuro Oe, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994, spoke on June 6 at a demonstration of 3,000 people opposing the restart of the Oi nuclear reactor in Fukui Japan, saying that the only way to save humanity is to turn away from nuclear power. The campaigners plan to collect 10 million signatures against restarting the Oi reactor.
A poll conducted in early May indicated that 63% of Japanese citizens are against restarting the reactors.However on June 17, the Japanese government agreed to restart No 3 and 4 reactors at the plant with this process starting from early July, having brought a number of local politicians who were previously opposing their plans back into line. They also held the so called “safety” committee hearing – the meeting which agreed the reactor should be switched back on – in private after moving to a different venue when too many opponents of the plan turned up. (http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T120616002925.htm)
(http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article25655) About half the electricity in the vicinity of this plant came from nuclear power prior to the Fukushima disaster.
If they are able to succeed in doing this, this will be the first nuclear power plant to be put back into operation following the disaster at Fukushima in March 2011. And it’s clear that they plan to bring as many other reactors as possible back on line as they can get away with
Over 5,000 had marched in Tokyo on May 5 to celebrate the shutting down of the final reactor on that day. This was the first time in 42 years that the country had been nuke-free – a massive achievement for the anti-nuclear movement in the face of determined opposition from the government.(http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article25200)
These actions have been part of a persistent growth in the anti-nuclear movement in Japan which has taken place since the disaster at Fukushima.
Campaigners in Britain got a chance to hear about this directly when the Japanese Peace boat (http://www.peaceboat.org/english/wtpb/intr.html and http://www.facebook.com/peaceboat) visited Greenwich on June 21 at an event hosted by CND (http://www.cnduk.org/images/stories/peaceBoatFlyer2.pdf)and ICAN(http://www.icanw.org/).
Karen Hallows, a British woman now living in Japan and working for the peace boat, pointed out some of the differences and similarities between Japan and Britain. Japan, having suffered from the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki does not have nuclear weapons – but has at the same time been addicted to nuclear power – and so also suffered the disaster of Fukushima as well.
The most powerful testimonies came from the survivors. – First there two elderly people who were respectively 10 and 7 at the time of Nagasaki and spoke about how they experienced the blast and its aftermath.
Equally riveting was the account from the young woman from Fukushima who spoke about the fact that she had not known anything about nuclear power before the disaster despite living all her life close to the plant. She pointed out that the most frightening thing about nuclear power is that you cannot see it and cannot see what it is doing to you.
We also witnessed a powerful dance and music performance from the boats drummers, the creation of a magnificent painting of a vision of a nuclear free world from the boat’s artist as well as speeches from ICAN’s Rebecca Johnson (and two songs to boot) and CND’s Kate Husdon.
The event made clear the link between nuclear weapons and nuclear power and the threat both pose to our future. It was a shame that more people weren’t able to participate but it was advertised at rather short notice and started early for people coming from work.
Other evidence coming out about the impact of the melt down at Fukushima includes the fact that caesium has been recently found in tuna caught off the coast of the US – and the fact that the Japanese authorities recently revealed that they did not expect to be able to allow all those who had to evacuate from near the site (up to 18%) to return home up to 10 years after the disaster. (http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article25655)
Most significantly, the day before the event in Greenwich 1,300 residents of Fukushima presented a complaint to public prosecutors on June 11 over radiation damage from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, accusing 33 people including Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata of professional negligence resulting in injury and other charges – the first complaint of its kind. Hiroyuki Kawai, a lawyer representing the complainants, described the move as a first step in creating public consensus to question the criminal responsibility of officials.
We need to stand in solidarity with the people of Japan and support their campaigns against restarting the reactors in the wake of Fukushima, and for those responsible for the disaster and the attempts to cover it up to be held accountable. At the same time we need to campaign vigorously as possible against nuclear weapons here in Britain – and against the greenwash that we need another generation of deadly nuclear weapons to save us from climate change. Instead we need to build on the successes not only of the movement in Japan but of the powerful movement in Germany which forced Angela Merkel’s hand much against her will.
Meanwhile back in Japan, there is growing awareness of the level of danger still posed by the Daiichi plant at Fukushima. The three reactors which suffered partial meltdowns are not safe, and activists are trying to draw attention to a potentially even worse problem, that of the fuel rods stored in pools.
The position is this:
there is a large amount of radioactive material in the fuel pools (some 11,000 spent and new rods) containing the equivalent of 85 Chernobyl’s worth of caesium. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-alvarez/the-fukushima-nuclear-dis_b_1444146.html?ref=green covers this whole topic in more detail. (Robert Alvarez is a Senior Scholar at IPS, where he is currently focused on nuclear disarmament, environmental, and energy policies). See also http://akiomatsumura.com/2012/02/correspondence-on-the-new-photo-of-reactor-unit-no-4-at-fukushima.html)
• much of the fuel is stored, idiotically, in upper storeys above the reactors. In the case of reactor 4, the building beneath the fuel pool was badly damaged and though some of its supporting structures have been reinforced, it is still not secure; the pool is thought to contain 204 new rods, as reactor 4 was stopped for maintenance in March 2011;
• equipment for moving the rods in fuel pool 4, which have to be kept under water at all times unless they are stored in (expensive “dry” casks), was destroyed at the time of the earthquake;
• fuel pool 3 is also in a parlous state.
• an unknown proportion of the rods contain plutonium, far more deadly even than uranium;
• a new study published by the European Geosciences Union shows rising seismic and tectonic activity in northern Japan, meaning that more big earthquakes (of the order of 6.8) in the area are highly likely in the near future;
• even a moderately bad earthquake could bring fuel pool 4 down. The water in which the rods have to be kept would leak out, and the rods would emit large amounts of radiation;
• out of the water, the zirconium cladding of the rods might well catch fire, releasing further large amounts of radioactive material, and quite likely igniting other fuel rods in other nearby pools (a total of some 11,000 rods are believed to be stored at the Daichi site) ;
• if such an event occurred, vast amounts of radiation would be spread for hundreds and perhaps thousands of miles around.
Japanese activist organisations write to Ban Ki-Moon
By 30 April 2012 72 Japanese organisations had signed a petition to the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, requesting urgent action to help stabilise the Unit 4 fuel pool at Fukushima (Press Release at http://www.egu.eu/home/fukushima-at-increased-earthquake-risk.html The scientific article is available online at http://www.solid-earth.net/3/43/2012/se-3-43-2012.pdf) and saying that the danger is so great that the issue has become an international one that cannot be left to Japan alone. According to the letter, a catastrophe at the fuel pool would have worldwide implications. Various individuals have spoken out to the same effect, such as Michio Kaku, Professor of Theoretical Physics at CUNY (http://enenews.com/kaku-on-spent-fuel-pool-no-4-people-dont-realize-its-on-a-knifes-edge-near-the-tipping-point-audio), U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, who visited the plant on April 6 ( http://www.wyden.senate.gov/news/press-releases/after-tour-of-fukushima-nuclear-power-station-wyden-says-situation-worse-than-reported), Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear consulting engineer, and former Japanese diplomats Akio Matsumura(http://akiomatsumura.com/) and Mitsuhei Murata.
Greenpeace said in March that they have been conducting radiation monitoring around the Fukushima area for the past year, and have found serious risks to public health, inadequate decontamination activities, and a complete failure by the authorities to protect the Japanese population (http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/multimedia/photos/Radiation-Testing-In-Fukushima-City/). This chimes with what a cursory search of the internet reveals, namely that there has been a huge cover-up of the scale of the radiation released, by Tepco and the Japanese authorities, the U.S. authorities, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the mass media.
Tepco’s defence on the fuel pool
Until very recently, Tepco had been saying they plan to start to deal with the reactor 4 fuel pool only at the end of 2013, and that they would take several years to remove the rods, and only then remove them to the common pool, where they would still be at risk of earthquake damage. Tepco’s announcements and hints have been inconsistent here, as so often. Recently they were reported as saying that they would start work shortly on repairing the containment of the pool, perhaps in response to the growing outcry, but in a press conference on May 21 they said they had no intention of speeding up the decommissioning process; they have also announced that the reactor 4 building is stable and that they have done a computer simulation showing that it would stand an earthquake of up to 6.1. They then announced that they have put a 60-ton lid over fuel-pool 4; we have not yet seen any comment as to how effective this could be in containing radiation. It would presumably not be much use if the pool emptied and collapsed, one of the main worries.
The most recent news is that mounting pressure from inside Japan and without is starting to have an effect. Tepco announced on June 23 that they will start to try and remove a couple of unused and “undamaged” fuel rods from Fuel Pool 4 next month, as an experiment (the manoevres will be difficult as the equipment has been broken and the rods have to be kept submerged at all times). Good, but a drop in the ocean, as there are over 1,000 rods in the pool. And the Washington’s Blog article quotes Tepco as saying they don’t want to go fast and hurt the workers (!). Several sources close to the company have suggested one of the main reasons for slow progress in trying to retrieve the disaster at the plant, apart from extremely high levels of radioactivity in some places, is a desire to save the shareholders’ money.
No announcement has yet been made by the company, but an apparently speeded-up video emerged a couple of days ago showing a crane at work above the fuel pool, and huge clouds of dust billowing out. http://fukushima-diary.com/2012/06/live-tepco-is-removing-the-upper-part-of-reactor4/ This seems to show the upper floors of the Reactor 4 building being demolished, and should mean that TEPCO are at last moving towards attempting to put machinery in place and start lifting fuel assemblies out of the pool, a tremendously complicated operation”.
Why so many rods stored at Fukushima?
This may well be because a lot of the rods were originally intended to go to Monju, but have never been taken there because of Monju’s own problems. Japan’s fast breeder reactor built in the 60s, Monju has consumed $13 billion, never worked properly, being plagued with accidents, and only ever generated an hour’s worth of electricity (http://www.smh.com.au/environment/fastbreeder-reactor-faces-closure-20120201-1qtg2.html). It is thought now to be facing closure.
In fact, a long-running investigation by journalists based in the U.S. disclosed in April that under Reagan and Bush senior, the U.S. circumvented its own legislation in order to help Japan accumulate many tons of plutonium for a secret military programme to enable the Japanese to make a nuclear bomb at short notice if they felt so inclined, to keep up with China and Korea (http://www.dcbureau.org/201204097128/national-security-news-service/united-states-circumvented-laws-to-help-japan-accumulate-tons-of-plutonium.html#more-7128); the Tokai reprocessing plant and the Monju fast breeder were integral to this secret programme.
Curiously, U.S., Japanese, and other governments, the IAEA, the U.S. N.R.C. and the mass media have not publicly addressed the specific concerns being raised thoroughly if at all.
Some people as ascribe this to desperation by all the above to keep the nuclear power industry on the road, at whatever the human cost; but surely part of the reason is damage limitation – they are aware that a lot of radiation has been released from the reactors, and continues to be, probably into the air and certainly into the Pacific Ocean, but they are still hoping as few people will notice for as long as possible, even though health problems are already appearing, such as high levels of thyroid abnormalities in children from Fukushima.
Also relevant is that the Fukushima reactors are built to a General Electric design, and many examples are still at work in the U.S. – and indeed searching the net shows that many reactors in the U.S. have operating problems that are potentially hazardous, that activists in local communities campaign around.
Britain and France are publicly saying they want to get involved with the clean-up. U.S., British and French firms all appear to be involved in or bidding for involvement; indeed a U.S. firm announced a few weeks ago that there is no existing technology, in their view, to deal with the fuel rods problem. There needs to be the utmost scrutiny from the public to see what is planned, and to push urgently for the least dangerous solutions to be implemented as quickly as possible, since Tepco cannot be trusted to understand the urgency of the situation or put safety before money or face; and unless there is disclosure, we will not know which of the foreign firms have the right capabilities, and which are just in it for a few quick bucks. Greed has already affected the “clear-up” – big Japanese firms have got contracts through corrupt relationships, and are doing a lot of cowboy work; there have for months been protests in Japan about incineration of debris and moving earth to new areas, all of which contaminates new and bigger areas of Japan.
What should be done?
Various solutions for the number 4 Fuel pool have been put forward by Arnie Gundersen, Alvarez and Ron Wyden involving some mixture of removing the rods and shoring up the building.
Second, the public need to inform themselves of the dangers of radiation, and of countermeasures that, up to a point, can mitigate the dangers of radiation exposure: finding ways to reduce exposure, decontamination, and strengthening the immune system and so on. Much has been learnt by those who treated victims of Chernobyl. We should demand education around such radiological protection measures, and that they be made available to whoever needs it across the world, but first and foremost in Japan.
Most importantly the campaign for urgent international action needs to be broadened and stepped up – in defence of those who suffered at Fukushima and to prevent such a tragedy ever happening again