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Greenpeace: Fukushima Disaster Caused by Japan's Nuclear Authorities, Not Tsunami

- Common Dreams staff

A new report released today by Greenpeace argues it was neither the 7.1 magnitude earthquake nor the raging tsunami that followed which deserve the real blame for the nuclear disaster at Japan's Fukushima Diachi power plant last year. Rather, according to 'The Lessons of Fukushima', the real disaster was caused by hubris, greed, and the fact that repeated warnings over the unsafe nature of the nuclear plant were 'downplayed and ignored'.

Litate village, 40km northwest of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Radiation levels found by the Greenpeace monitoring team are far above internationally recommended limits. (Christian Aslund / Greenpeace) “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 Jan Vande Putte, 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.”

The report was written by 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 Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer with Fairewinds Associates. It was peer reviewed by Dr. Helmut Hirsch, an expert in nuclear safety.

“This disaster was predictable and predicted, but happened because of the age-old story of cutting corners to protect profits over people,” said Kazue Suzuki Greenpeace Japan Nuclear Campaigner. “The authorities are already recklessly pushing to restart reactors without learning anything from the Fukushima disaster and the people will once again be forced to pay the price of their government’s mistakes.”

“People should not be forced to live with the myth of nuclear safety and under the shadow of a nuclear disaster waiting to happen,” said Vande Putte. “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.“

Jan Baranek, writing at the Greenpeace blog, says:

... The first crucial lesson [of the report] is that “nuclear safety” cannot be created. While the nuclear industry wants us to believe that the chance of a major reactor accident is one in million, the real frequency has been one meltdown every decade, on average. Fukushima also showed how quickly the multiple barriers that we were assured would prevent a large release of radioactivity failed. In Japan, all the barriers collapsed during the first day, and a hydrogen blast allowed radiation to directly escape to open air.

The second lesson is that the institutions that we have trusted to protect people from nuclear risks also failed completely.

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You can view the full Greenpeace report here:

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Another Fukushima report is being released this week by the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation. The report reveals the fears confronted by the Japanese government immediately following the tsunami devastation at the nuclear power plant. Officials were aware of the inevitable "devil's chain reaction" while telling the public that it was under control.

LA Times reports:

The six-month investigation was conducted by a private policy group called the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation. It involved 30 independent researchers, academics, lawyers and journalists.[...]

Then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan's administration as well as nuclear regulators and the Tokyo Electric Power Co., the utility that runs Fukushima, have been chided for what critics say was their haphazard response to the crisis and for failing to keep the public informed of the dangers.

At one point, the Rebuild Japan report claims, advisors to Kan began referring to a worst-case scenario that would not only force the evacuation of tens of millions of Tokyo residents, but could cause widespread environmental damage across Japan. But at the same time Kan's staff continued to assure the Japanese public and the international community that the situation was under control.

When the nuclear plant was struck by a wall of water after an earthquake hit northeastern Japan on the afternoon of March 11, Kan ordered workers to remain at the devastated facility, fearing that thousands of spent fuel rods stored at a damaged reactor would melt and spew radiation following a hydrogen explosion at an adjacent reactor, the report said. [...]

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Likewise, Europe is ill-prepared for a nuclear incident akin to Fukushima, according to Institut de Radioprotection et de Surete Nucleaire (IRSN) in a report this week, highlighting a systemic danger in nuclear power plants worldwide.

Bloomberg reports:

“If the same accident had occurred in the heart of Europe where there is no ocean, it would have been much, much worse.”

“There are doubts about the ability of some European countries to manage this type of situation,” Jacques Repussard, director of the Institut de Radioprotection et de Surete Nucleaire, or IRSN, said at a press conference in Paris today. “It’s extremely problematic. We need to progress in crisis management in many regions.”

Some European countries lack sufficient atomic crisis centers while health authorities across the region don’t agree on what instructions to give local populations in case of accidents, he said. “There isn’t enough coordination.” [...]

IRSN calculations indicate the amount of radioactive iodine released at Fukushima was one-tenth that at Chernobyl and the amount of cesium was one-third. Most of the contamination at Fukushima was dispersed over the ocean.

“If the same accident had occurred in the heart of Europe where there is no ocean, it would have been much, much worse,” Didier Champion, head of the team that followed the Japanese crisis at the IRSN, said at the press conference.

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