In Defense of the Public Interest: Connecting and Amplifying Independent Voices around Nuclear Accidents


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Akio Matsumura

Excerpts from the Asahi Shimbun Editorial on Nov 23, 2016:

For planet Earth, the passage of five years and eight months represents nothing but a flash. 

The Magnitude 7.4 earthquake that struck eastern Japan on November 22, 2016, believed to an aftershock of the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011, served as a wake up-up call, for us humans whose memories are woefully short. 

This time, many people became alarmed when they learned of the temporary failure of the cooling water pump for the spent nuclear fuel pool at the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO). In the immediate aftermath of the March 2011 disaster, however, the shutdown of the cooling water pump at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant presented a serious threat to the spent nuclear fuel. A possible massive release of radioactive substances was feared.

We are concerned that this particular lesson from the 2011 disaster may have already been forgotten. 

We must all learn humbly from each disaster. It is up to all of society--individuals and corporations alike--to keep planning viable countermeasures steadily and surely. 

Ultimately, that is the only way to prepare for the next disaster, which may strike even today. 

Japan’s government and the Tokyo Metropolitan government flood the news with promotions of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games. With this excitement in the foreground, we take little notice of the fact that there is little to no news of how repairs proceed, whether the crews face difficulty, and how many areas cannot even be entered at Fukushima’s nuclear site. Indeed, to a casual observer in Japan or the United States it appears that Fukushima’s nuclear issues were solved long ago and remain under control today. Of course, this is not the case. I am concerned that many aspects of the Fukushima nuclear crisis continue to affect human and environmental safety.

An aerial view shows Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant in Naraha town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo November 22, 2016. Mandatory credit Kyodo Kyodo/via REUTERS

An aerial view shows Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant in Naraha town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo November 22, 2016. Mandatory credit Kyodo Kyodo/via REUTERS

Because the media has shifted its spotlight away from the crisis, it is important to keep in mind the following facts:

  • Because of strong radiation, no one can approach reactors No.1, 2, and 3. No solution to remove the irradiated cores is expected for at least forty years.
  • TEPCO uses 400 tons of water every day to cool the melted cores of the three crippled reactors, and another 400 tons of ground water are pouring into the damaged reactor building every day. In addition, rain washes away radioactive materials remaining at the site into the sea.
  • Phytoplankton (algae) absorb radioactive isotopes from Fukushima, which sustain microscopic zooplankton and larvae. These microorganisms, the major feedstock for fish and marine mammals, are then carried along the North Pacific Current to the West Coast of North America, and spread as far as Alaska and Chile.
  • An underground wall of frozen dirt 100 feet deep and nearly 1 mile length — officially called “Land-Side Impermeable Wall” or Ice Wall — cost $320 million and completely failed in its objectives of preventing the flow of contaminated water.
  • According to Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, cleanup measures will cost several billion dollars per year if any real progress is to be made. Japan’s government is unlikely to set aside so much money from its budget.

What we learned from the Fukushima nuclear accident was that the priorities of the Japanese government and TEPCO were not to protect public, and regrettably many eminent Japanese nuclear scientists spoke for TEPCO or kept silent. TEPCO has admitted, five years later, that it delayed two months in using the term “meltdown” at the site. To experts observing from around the world, it was obvious that a meltdown was underway from the moment massive releases of fission gases appeared.

I also have a hard time accepting how the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) handled the situation — from the initial crisis to today. Early on, the IAEA sent experts to Fukushima to assess the situation and provide expertise to the Japanese government and TEPCO. Why did they not lodge a complaint when Japan’s government decided on 12.5 miles (20 km) evacuation zone – one quarter of the United States’s recommendation of 50 miles (80 km) and one-tenth (!) of the 125 miles (200 km) that included Tokyo recommended by the United Kingdom, France, and Germany? The IAEA’s mission is to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy while inhibiting its use for any military purpose, including nuclear weapons. These objectives should include a moral obligation to prioritize public safety, and not to defend the positions of member governments and the nuclear industry.

INTERACTIVE MAP: Nuclear Power Plants and State Fragility Index
Explore in full format  (not compatible with Internet Explorer) Click on each power plant or country for more information.
Double-click to zoom, click and drag to move.

 

In my judgment, the probability of terrorist attacks on one of the 430 nuclear power reactors worldwide is significant and growing. Given the political, economic, and environmental incentives for governments and industry, discussion around nuclear power security and safety is very likely to remain opaque and underdeveloped. To hedge against the lack of accurate information, it is in the public’s interest to establish an independent expert network on nuclear power safety and security. The late Dr. Hans-Peter Durr, former Director of Astrophysics at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, advised me days after the Fukushima crisis began that once the nuclear power accident occurred, there would be no scientific solution to stop it for decades. He said that only way to minimize damage would be to bring together the wisdom of experts from diverse fields to look at the total picture of the nuclear accident.

I am very encouraged by the support I have received in establishing the International Advisory Council of the Nuclear Emergency Action Alliance (NEAA). With plenty of help, I have recruited experts from diverse fields: nuclear engineering, medicine, environmental health and justice, the military, biology, social activism, business, and social media. Our members are at the top of their fields, and all are highly praised and recommended by their colleagues and the public alike. (Note: we each represent ourselves alone in this Council – professional background is for context only.)

I am extremely pleased to introduce the current membership of the International Advisory Council of the NEAA.

NEAA International Advisory Council

FirstLastProfessional BackgroundCountry
Note: The IPPNW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985.
Robert AlvarezFounder of the Environment Policy InstituteUSA
Claus BiegertDirector of the Nuclear-Free FoundationGermany
Oleg BodrovChairman of Green World Russia
Rinaldo BrutocoFounding President of the World Business AcademyUSA
Helen CaldicottFounding President of Physicians for Social ResponsibilityAustralia
AgnesDenesInternational Conceptual and Environmental Artist, pioneer of the ecological art movementUSA, born Budapest, Hungary
Arne Johnanson FjortoftFonder of the Worldview International FoundationNorway
Subrata GhoshroyResearch affiliate at the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyUSA
Roza (Rose) GoncharovaHead of Genetic Safety Laboratory, National Academy of Science of Belarus, Institute of Genetics and CytologyBelarus
Pervez HoodbhoyMember of the Permanent Monitoring Panel on Terrorism of the World Federation of ScientistsPakistan
Scott JonesCareer naval officer, Qualified nuclear weapons delivery pilotUSA
David KriegerFounder of the Nuclear Age Peace FoundationUSA
Claus MontonenProfessor of Elementary Particle Physics at University of HelsinkiFinland
Eisuke MatsuiDirector of Gifu Research Institute for Environmental MedicineJapan
Akio MatsumuraFounder of NEAA, Founder of the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary LeadersJapan
Mitsuhei MurataFormer Japanese Ambassador to SwitzerlandJapan
Andreas NideckerFounder of Physicians for Social Responsibility/International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War/Switzerland (PSR/IPPNW/Switzerland)Switzerland
Michel PrieurPresident of the International Center of Comparative Environmental Law (CIDCE), Professor Emeritus of University of LimogesFrance
Muhammad Riaz PashaScientist and former Adviser/ Technical Consultant to the Pakistan Atomic Energy CommissionPakistan
Alex RosenVice President of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War Germany Germany
Vinod SaighalMajor General (ret), Executive Director of Eco Monitors SocietyIndia
Jurgen ScheffranProfessor of Climate Change and Security at University of HamburgGermany
Alice SlaterLawyer, Nuclear Age Peace FoundationUSA
Gordon ThompsonExecutive Director of Institute for Resource and Security StudiesUSA
Francisco Chico WhitakerWorld Future Council (WFC), Catholic Commission for Justice and PeaceBrazil
Yves LenoirSocial movement for children of Chernobyl. President of the French Association Enfants de Tchernobyl BelarusFrance

We do not know when, where or how a nuclear power accident will occur, but we have to admit the reality that governments and industry will make all possible efforts to hide any dangers from the public.

In this day and age, we have access to information and the means to connect experts to analyze, interpret, and communicate it. The challenge ahead is to build and maintain an effective, independent network that works in defense of the public interest.

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