The nuclear industry is constantly reassuring the public that its reactors are safe. But, as the nuclear disaster in Japan continues to unfold, the evidence mounts that these assurances frequently can’t be trusted at all and that in Japan in particular, the nuclear industry and the government have failed in their duty to protect the Japanese people.
Media reports on this week's publication of Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) manuals said the documents show that ‘the utility's lack of preparedness for an emergency’ was ‘a major factor leading to the meltdowns after the March 11 quake-tsunami’, so it’s no wonder the company had previously refused to make the full documents public. It was Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency that demanded disclosure.
This sounded terribly familiar to us…
In July 2007, the Chūetsu offshore earthquake shut down TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in western Japan. The quake turned over containers of nuclear waste, causing a release of radioactivity into the atmosphere. Radioactive water leaked inside several of the reactor buildings, some of it reaching the Sea of Japan.
According to Japan’s Daily Yomiuri, ‘it was discovered that TEPCO did not thoroughly survey faults near the [Kashiwazaki-Kariwa] nuclear plant and its earthquake-resistance measures were insufficient’. This was after the company admitted in 2002 to deliberately falsifying safety reports and covering up a large number of incidents at its reactors. The scandal, dating back to the 1980s and through the 1990's, showed TEPCO’s failure to conduct vital safety inspections at their nuclear reactors.
So we see that TEPCO has a long history of being wholly unprepared for emergencies and ignoring safety concerns. Not only that, Japan’s nuclear watchdogs have failed time and time again to ensure that TEPCO lived up to rigorous and vital safety standards. And now media are reporting evidence of government organisations that should be regulating the nuclear industry attempting to manipulate public opinion in its favour.
Even worse, ‘there are no legal requirements to re-evaluate site related (safety) features periodically,’ as the Japanese government told the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2008. In October this year, a report showed that TEPCO had known since 2008 that the Fukushima Daiichi plant was vulnerable to a tsunami but hid the findings and did nothing to improve the plant’s defences or emergency planning. They weren’t legally obliged to..
The catastrophic safety failures at Fukushima are a direct result of cost and corner cutting by TEPCO and disgraceful failure to regulate effectively by the government. It’s symbolic of the systematic failures of the nuclear industry and governments worldwide to ensure proper safety levels are strictly followed. Given the scale of destruction a nuclear disaster presents what we have seen in Japan is a shameful failure of leadership, accountability and respect for the lives of others.
Now we hear that the amount of radiation released by the Fukushima reactors was double that claimed by the government. Japan’s Prime Minister Noda should announce that Japan’s nuclear experiment has failed utterly and immediately abandon any plans to restart old reactors or to complete any partially-built ones.
We must never forget that while TEPCO and the government enjoyed its cosy relationship and ignored safety warnings. Given the siting of the Fukushima plant in a fault zone, thedisaster that has devastated the lives of thousands of people was inevitable. Japan will be living with the terrible consequences of this deceit for a very long time.