Four years after Fukushima, the same paradigm prevails in nuclear energy

15 March 2015 (Arnie Gundersen)

The same skewed decision-making process that led to ignoring the tsunami risk at Fukushima is still being applied to new nuclear construction and old nuclear operation, warns Arnie Gundersen.

FOUR years have passed since the 11 March 2011 tragic triple meltdowns began at Fukushima Daiichi. There is no end in sight.

Let's be clear: The disaster at Fukushima Daiichi was human-made. Tokyo Electric (TEPCO), and indeed the entire nuclear industry worldwide, act as if they are the victims of a natural disaster, but in fact the nuclear industry is the perpetrator of this travesty. When the US nuclear companies General Electric and Ebasco built Fukushima Daiichi for TEPCO, they knew that huge tsunamis were a real risk. Instead of designing for the worst imaginable consequences - which would make nuclear power unaffordable - the industry chose to save money, allowing economics to trump safety.

The continuing problems at Fukushima Daiichi during the last four years stem from those skewed priorities. Tokyo Electric, the government regulators in Japan and the worldwide nuclear industry grossly underestimated the initial radioactive releases, underestimated the magnitude of the disaster and underestimated the consequences of not taking action. The Japanese people will pay the price for decades to come.1

Is Tokyo Electric or the Japanese government incompetent? I don't think so. As I look back at the last four years, I think that TEPCO, Japanese regulators and worldwide regulatory agencies wanted nuclear power to succeed so badly that they focused on saving Tokyo Electric and forgot about the people they were created to serve.2

At each nuclear catastrophe - Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and again at Fukushima Daiichi - the companies, governments and agencies responding to these disasters were not working to protect people, but worked instead to protect the ongoing operation and potential future of nuclear power. The mishandling of this disaster has shown us that emergency response must be directed by organisations that put people first - not agencies that have a vested interest in perpetuating nuclear power, banking and industrial interests.

Why have the nuclear industry, its regulators and governments worldwide attempted to minimise the devastation created by the obvious collapse of the myth of nuclear safety? The answer is money. Throughout the world, banks and governments are heavily invested in the financial success of the ongoing operation of their nuclear power plants, no matter what health consequences and personal loss are forced upon the people of their nations.

Following the Fukushima Daiichi triple meltdown, governments around the world have destroyed their social contracts with their citizens by pressing for costly and risky nuclear power without regard for the health and welfare of generations to come. The social contract between the people in Japan and the Japanese government has certainly been breached, perhaps for decades to come.

The same skewed decision-making process that led to ignoring the tsunami risk at Fukushima Daiichi in 1965 is still being applied to new nuclear construction and old nuclear operation. The old paradigm has not and likely will not change, despite five meltdowns during the last 35 years disproving the myth of nuclear safety.

Of all the ways electricity is produced, nuclear technology is the only one that can destroy the fabric of a country overnight. In his memoirs, Mikhail Gorbachev states that it was the Chernobyl accident that destroyed the Soviet Union, not perestroika. Five former Japanese prime ministers - Kan, Koizumi, Nakasone, Noda and Hatoyama - who span the spectrum of liberal to conservative, oppose nuclear power. And currently in Europe, German Chancellor and former physicist Angela Merkel is leading her country to be nuclear-free by 2022.

Where there is a political will, nations can wean themselves from nuclear power without waiting for yet another nuclear disaster to occur.

'Considering the risk of losing half our land and evacuating half our population, my conclusion is that not having nuclear power plants is the safest energy policy,' former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Japan's leader during the Fukushima Daiichi tragedy, has said.                  

 

Notes

Copyright Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission.

Endnotes

  1. Crisis Without End: The Medical and Ecological Consequences of the Fukushima Nuclear Catastrophe, The New Press, ISBN 978-1-59558-960-6, 2014
  2. John Downer, 'Fukushima and the institutional invisibility of nuclear disaster', theEcologist.org, 20 December 2014
by Arnie Gundersen
15 March 2015
Arnie Gundersen is theChief Engineer of Fairewinds Associates and is a former nuclear industry senior vice president and licensed reactor operator. He earned his master's degree in nuclear engineering via the prestigious Atomic Energy Commission Fellowship. The above article first appeared on the Truthout website (truth-out.org/opinion/item/29575-four-years-on-after-fukushima-the-same-paradigm-prevails-in-nuclear-energy).