Lessons from Fukushima nuclear disaster point at similar risks in SA

Press release - February 28, 2012
Johannesburg, February 28, 2012 - Greenpeace today released “Lessons from Fukushima”, a new report which shows that it was not a natural disaster which led to the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant on Japan’s east coast but the failures of the government, regulators and the nuclear industry. The key conclusion to be drawn from the report is that this human-made nuclear disaster could be repeated at any nuclear plant in the world. South Africa should reassess its nuclear expansion plans learning the lessons from the institutional failures that caused the Fukushima accident, such as political influence and regulatory challenges.

“While triggered by the tragic March 11th earthquake and tsunami, the Fukushima disaster was ultimately caused by the Japanese authorities choosing to ignore risks, and make business a higher priority than safety,” said Rianne Teule, Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner. “This report shows that nuclear energy is inherently unsafe, and that governments are quick to approve reactors, but remain ill-equipped to deal with problems and protect people from nuclear disasters. This has not changed since the Fukushima disaster, and that is why millions of people continue to be exposed to nuclear risks.”

Greenpeace commissioned Dr. David Boilley, a nuclear physicist with the French independent radiation laboratory ACRO; Dr. David McNeill, Japan correspondent for The Chronicle of Higher Education and other publications; and Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer with Fairewinds Associates, to write “Lessons from Fukushima” (1). The report, peer reviewed by Dr. Helmut Hirsch, an expert in nuclear safety, reaches three important insights:

1) Japanese authorities and the operators of the Fukushima plant were entirely wrong in their assumptions about the risks of a serious accident. The real risks were known but downplayed and ignored.

2) Even though Japan is considered one of the best-prepared countries in the world for handling major disasters the reality of a large nuclear disaster proved to be far worse than what was planned for. Nuclear emergency and evacuation plans utterly failed to protect people.

3) Hundreds of thousands of people have been deeply affected by evacuations to escape radioactive contamination. They cannot rebuild their lives due to a lack of support and financial compensation. Japan is one of only three countries with a law making a nuclear operator liable for the full costs of a disaster. Yet, the liability law and compensation schemes are inadequate in Japan. Even a year after the disaster began, impacted people are essentially left on their own and Japanese taxpayers will end up paying much of the costs.

“This disaster was predictable and predicted, but happened because of the age-old story of cutting corners to protect profits over people,” said Ferrial Adam, Greenpeace Africa Nuclear Campaigner. “The South African government is recklessly pushing to build 9,600 MW of new nuclear without learning anything from the Fukushima disaster. A next Fukushima will be their responsibility.”

Greenpeace is urging the South African Government to abandon its nuclear expansion plans in favour of a strong push to energy efficiency and renewable power (2). Many of the institutional failures that caused Fukushima can easily be repeated in South Africa, with the lack of emergency preparedness and accountability, as well as strong linkages between the nuclear industry, the government and the regulator that needs to safeguard the public.

Nuclear power must be phased out and replaced with smart investments in energy efficiency and renewable power. This approach will create millions of sustainable jobs, improve energy independence, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and will also ensure people will never again suffer radioactive fallout from a preventable disaster.

ENDS

 

Contacts:

  • Rianne Teule, Greenpeace International Campaigner, , 0795129304
  • Ferrial Adam, Greenpeace Africa Campaigner, , 0795129373
  • Mbong Akiy,  Greenpeace Africa Communication manager, , 0716881274

Notes:

1) Link to the Executive Summary and the Lessons from Fukushima report: http://www.greenpeace.org/fukushima-lessons

2) The Greenpeace Energy Revolution scenario for South Africa shows that nuclear power generation not needed in the transition to a clean and sustainable energy supply: www.energyblueprint.info/1328.0.html