A satellite image shows damage at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant In Fukushima Prefecture after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami (© DigitalGlobe)
When it comes to nuclear power it usually takes a while for the truth to come out. And now six months after Japan’s catastrophic earthquake and tsunami, sparked off the current crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the truth is finally beginning to emerge.
The Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) still struggling to bring the stricken Fukushima reactors under control today, but the consequences of this crisis are set to continue for decades. As time goes on, of the long term radioactive contamination that has spread over wide areas that will take decades to dissipate; this risks of potential health problems, and ongoing contamination of food supplies. Large areas around the nuclear will remain off limits.
The official response to the Fukushima disaster is still lacking in comprehensiveness, transparency and urgency. Information that would ensure public safety and confidence has not been forthcoming from the government, which itself is still playing catch-up: proper radiation monitoring, timely and clear advice, adequate protective measures and support – including the evacuation of most vulnerable parts of the population - are still lacking, but should been launched at the very beginning.
Parents, despite making every effort to avoid radioactive contamination without government support, are discovering the ongoing risks the disaster is having on their children. As Greenpeace found in Fukushima City last month, when it found contamination in several schools and public areas, parents are being forced to choose between radiation and their children’s education.
Greenpeace radiation expert Iryna Labunska checks radiation levels at the Minami Fukushima kindergarten (© Noriko Hayashi / Greenpeace)
In the wake of Fukushima, Germany and Italy have both taken the courageous step in turning their backs on nuclear energy. In Japan and elsewhere, however, the nuclear industry is trying to ensure business as usual despite, becoming increasingly dogged in cover-up and scandals.
Instead of taking control of the situation, and earning the public’s trust by being transparent, TEPCO remains reluctant to provide important information about the nuclear crisis. This is a trend that has continued since the beginning of the crisis. TEPCO’s nuclear accident operating manual was released to a government committee this week. The committee found it so heavily censored that it was unreadable. Even Naoto Kan, who recent stepped down as Prime Minister was in the dark about what TEPCO was doing, saying that he personally visited the Fukushima reactors the day after the crisis began ‘because we were not receiving accurate information from the plant’.
Japan’s other nuclear companies, having seen public opinion swing against them, have embarked on a covert mission to persuade the people of Japan to give them a second chance. Since the nuclear crisis began, both the nuclear industry and government officials have been embroiled in a series of scandals where power companies have attempted to manipulate public opinion in favour of nuclear power.
It seems that this is not a new thing, and that Government complicity with the nuclear industry has been going on for years. Even Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency – the country’s nuclear regulator – was found to have tried to influence a public symposium in 2007. Incredibly, the chairman of the Saga Prefectural Assembly's nuclear safety committee – a body set up to investigate nuclear scandals – had to resign last month when it was revealed he had taken donations from nuclear power companies.
However, don’t assume these kinds of nuclear scandals are found only in Japan. Such dirty tricks are to be found wherever nuclear reactors spring up. Look at Italian nuclear company ENEL trying to prevent public involvement. Look at the UK government holding ‘unfair’, ‘misleading’, ‘very seriously flawed’ and ‘procedurally unfair’ consultations. Look at French nuclear giant EdF spying on Greenpeace. That’s just three examples. The list is long, and it’s sure to be added to in the future
The Fukushima disaster has shown the world that nuclear power is fundamentally unsafe, and those with a vested interest in it are not to be trusted. It’s time to put our trust and our futures in safe, clean energy sources like wind and solar. To rebuild its economy, to recover from the tragic events of March 11, and to protect the health and safety of its people, Japan can an Energy Revolution - and it can have it now. Watch this space next week to see how Japan does not need to depend on nuclear power.
To get a feel for how the Fukushima disaster has unfolded since March 11, check out our new interacting timeline: