Japan: Fukushima: Politics Still ‘Trumps’ Safety – OpEd


“All the samples would be considered nuclear waste if found here in the US.” – Arnie Gundersen on soil samples taken recently from parks, playgrounds and rooftop gardens throughout Tokyo.

The Japanese Prime Minister Declares Nuclear Plant Safe…

Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda declared that nuclear units 3 & 4 at the Ohi Nuclear Plant were safe for operation. Prime Minister Noda based this declaration on ‘stress tests’ which were nothing more than computer simulations.  The computer simulations merely estimate any given reactor’s ability to withstand large earthquakes and/or tsunamis, allegedly like last year’s Fukushima disaster.  No other studies, expert testimony or other considerations were mentioned. Unfortunately, for Japan—and the world—Noda couldn’t be more wrong.

Several weeks ago, noted nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen visited Tokyo for the express purpose of collecting soil samples. The results were damning. To quote Gundersen

”… I was in Tokyo and when I was in Tokyo, I took some samples. Now, I did not look for the highest radiation spot. I just went around with five plastic bags and when I found an area, I just scooped up some dirt and put it in a bag. One of those samples was from a crack in the sidewalk. Another one of those samples was from a children’s playground that had been previously decontaminated. Another sample had come from some moss on the side of the road. Another sample came from the roof of an office building that I was at. And the last sample was right across the street from the main judicial center in downtown Tokyo. I brought those samples back, declared them through Customs, and sent them to the lab. And the lab determined that ALL of them would be qualified as radioactive waste here in the United States and would have to be shipped to Texas to be disposed of.”

And yet Japanese Prime Minister Noda is fervently lobbying to restart nuclear reactors, fearing power losses in the hot summer. It is reported that without the restart of the Ohi nuclear plant and some unnamed others, the plant operator—Kansai Electric—would only generate some 80% of previous electric output.

Reports Leaking Citing 14 Reactors in Similar Condition as Fukushima..

In the meantime, various reports are leaking out of Japan including a video on Asahi TV which shows mutated plants in Tokyo, and a report on ENE News citing a former Fukushima Daiichi Reactor Operator claiming that they routinely falsified data and rewrote operations reports.

Ironically, sources as conservative as Bloomberg News have cited similar safety concerns. A piece by Jason Clenfield which ran on March 22, 2011, detailed how engineer Mitsuhiko Tanaka helped cover-up a ‘manufacturing defect’ in Fukushima Daiichi No. 4 reactor while employed by Hitachi Ltd. in 1974. Tanaka has dubbed Reactor #4 as a ‘time bomb,’ and has pleaded with government officials repeatedly only to be pushed aside and ignored. Yuichi Izumisawa, a Hitachi spokesman explained how the company conferred with Tanaka back in 1988, concluding no further safety concern existed. Izumisawa was recently quoted stating that…”We have not revised our view since then.”

Kenta Takahashi from the Japanese Trade Ministry’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency would not confirm if an investigation into Tanaka’s allegations had been initiated by its predecessor, the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. Spokesman Naoki Tsunoda declined to comment. Tokyo Electric or TEPCO owns the plant and is the same vendor tapped to build new nuclear plants in the U.S. currently planned by the Obama administration.

…The fatal flaw in reactor #4….

According to Tanaka, the reactor pressure vessel had warped walls which caused the vessel to sag, resulting in a height and weight differentiation of more than 34 millimeters. During the last step in a manufacturing process at the Babcock-Hitachi foundry in Kure City, a deadly mistake was made. Braces which had to be placed inside the reactor pressure vessel during a blast furnace firing were absent. It’s unclear whether the braces collapsed or were forgotten entirely. The omission of these braces produced a reactor pressure vessel with warped walls.

While politicians may mock or belittle the importance of ’34 millimeters’—that miniscule difference is a vital safety concern. 34 millimeters can mean the difference between an intact reactor or– a chain reaction bomb. Nuclear regulations mandated that the vessel be scrapped. Had the warped reactor walls been discovered; the replacement cost of the vessel would have bankrupted the company. Tanaka claimed that his boss …”asked him to reshape the vessel so that no one would know it had ever been damaged.” Tanaka further claimed that workers at the plant covered the damaged vessel with a sheet. It is noted that the same ‘protective covering’ of a white sheet is still employed at Fukushima in 2012. (Source: http://tepco.co/jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/images/handouts_120423_06-e.pdf)

Tanaka’s fix involved using pumpjacks to ‘pop out’ the warped areas on the walls. The company was happy because the end result looked like nothing had ever been damaged or compromised. There is no record of stress tests to determine ongoing viability of these compromised vessel walls on its own structural integrity, yet this same reactor pressure vessel is the sole defense protecting Fukushima’s No. 4 reactor. (Source: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-23/fukushima-engineer-says-he-covered-up-flaw-at-shut-reactor.html)

‘Luckily’ reactor #4 was shut for maintenance on March 11th, 2011—the day the earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit. Tanaka claims, …”I could be the father of a Japanese Chernobyl.”

The GE Connection to Fukushima…

Tanaka has not been the only engineer involved in the building and operation of ‘boiling-water’ reactors who became a whistle-blower against corporate practices deemed scientifically negligent in the nuclear industry. Dale G. Bridenbaugh, Gregory C. Minor and Richard B. Hubbard, all former engineers with GE resigned in protest over major design flaws in the Mark 1 nuclear reactor designs they were reviewing. Dubbed the “GE Three”—these engineers switched sides and joined the anti-nuclear movement in 1975. The GE Three were reviewing the Mark 1 system which is among the oldest reactors in use. Arguing that the Mark 1 system was a disaster in the making to deaf corporate ears—the three engineers quit in disgust. It should be noted that 5 of the 6 reactors at Fukushima-Daiichi are GE manufactured Mark 1 systems. To add further insult to injury—the GE Mark 1 reactors at Fukushima—have “23 sisters in the US.” According to Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) data, 23 of the 104 existing nuclear plants in the US are GE boiling-water reactors with GE’s Mark 1 radiation containment systems. (Source: http://openchannel.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/03/13/6256121-general-electric-designed-reactors-in-fukushima-have-23-sisters-in-us)

Bridenbaugh was interviewed March 15, 2011 by ABC News and explained the concerns: ”The problems we identified in 1975 were that, in doing the design of the containment, they (GE) did not take into account the dynamic loads that could be experienced with a loss of coolant.” (Source : http://abcnews.com/Blotter/fukushima-mark-nuclear-reactor-design-caused-ge-scientist/story?id=13141287)

In other words, the integrity of the nuclear reactor’s coolant system to withstand what engineers call a “station blackout”—(where a power loss compromises or totally destroys the coolant system)– must be reexamined in older and newer nuclear plants. Without a coolant system in play for these ‘boiling water’ reactors—there is no way to prevent spent radioactive fuel from going ‘critical’ and exploding into the atmosphere. As Bridenbaugh explains in more genteel tech-speak:

”The impact loads the containment would receive by this very rapid release of energy could tear the containment apart and create an uncontrolled release.” (Source : http://abcnews.com/Blotter/fukushima-mark-nuclear-reactor-design-caused-ge-scientist/story?id=13141287)

Subsequently, secondary or back-up power generators are critical to public safety. Without such precautions, nuclear reactors such as those at Fukushima are little more than a radioactive time-bomb …”looking for a place to happen.’

Fukushima—revolving door …

The problems of Fukushima are endemic to the nuclear industry at large, where executives are frequently selected from government or business ranks rather than the scientific community. Fukushima was no exception. In a WikiLeaks revelation—cables sent from the US Embassy in Vienna to Washington DC cited Tomihiro Tanguchi’s weak leadership as head of Safety and Security for the International Atomic Energy Agency ( IAEA). Complaints mounted concerning Taniguchi’s incompetence and negligence especially with regards to the Japanese nuclear industry—eighteen months before the Fukushima disaster.

“For the past 10 years, the Department has suffered tremendously because of (deputy director general) Taniguchi’s weak management and leadership skills,” said one despatch on Dec 1, 2009.

“Taniguchi has been a weak manager and advocate, particularly with respect to confronting Japan’s own safety practices, and he is a particular disappointment to the United States for his unloved-step-child treatment of the Office of Nuclear Security,” said another, which was sent on July 7, 2009 (Source : http://www.climatespectator.com/au/news/wikileaks-cable-revealed-japan-nuclear-concerns)

The operator responsible for Fukushima Daiichi, namely TEPCO has a reported history of fraud allegations. In 2002, five TEPCO executives resigned over allegations they falsified nuclear plant safety records. Five reactors were shut down as a result. In 2006 the Japanese government discovered false water coolant temperature readings at Fukushima Daiichi in 1985 and 1988 and ordered TEPCO to re-inspect past data. The re-check of the suspicious data occurred after the government caught TEPCO using the earlier bogus data to satisfy mandatory inspections completed October of 2005. (Source : http://www.climatespectator.com/au/news/wikileaks-cable-revealed-japan-nuclear-concerns)

TEPCO’s practices’ included:

  • falsification of inspection records over many years;
  • covering up data about cracks in water circulation pumps and pipes which are critical for reactor cooling;
  • failure to report cracks in reactor core shrouds (stainless steel cylinders surrounding the reactor core), steam dryers, access hole covers, and components associated with jet pumps (which circulate cooling water inside the reactor);
  • in 1991 and 1992, tests of the leak rate of a Fukushima reactor containment vessel were faked by surreptitiously injecting compressed air into the containment building;
  • written records of cracks in neutron-measuring equipment at Fukushima were deleted by contractor Hitachi at TEPCO’s request; and

Mitsuhiko Tanaka, the same engineer who designed the flawed pressure vessel for Fukushima-Daiichi Reactor #4, is now a whistle-blowing science journalist exposing TEPCO’s ongoing pattern of propaganda and obstruction. Tanaka accuses TEPCO of ‘blacking out documents,’ and rigging the computer simulation used to justify restarting additional reactors.

TEPCO defends denying full access to scientific records on the grounds that such information constitutes ‘proprietary trade secrets.’ (Source: http://enenews.com/japan-journalist-tepco-not-telling-truth-blacking-out-key-documents-evidence-mounting-fukushima-meltdowns-caused-by-quake-would-delay-restarts-by-years)

Obama administration pushing new nukes…

On this backdrop—the Obama administration has been actively pushing new nuclear plants, with the first 2 plants to be built at Plant Vogtle (south of Augusta, Georgia). The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved these plants with one sole dissenter—Gregory Jaczko, the Chairman of the NRC. Jaczko is concerned that TEPCO (the chosen building partner of this dubious enterprise); will follow the same reckless path it followed regarding Fukushima. Specifically Jaczko cited, “Significant safety enhancements have already been recommended as a result of learning the lessons from Fukushima.”…”and there is still more work ahead of us. Knowing this I cannot support these licenses as if Fukushima never happened.” (Source : http://www.ajc.com/business/plant=vogtle-nuclear-expansion-1340522.html)

Jaczko’s position has been supported by Senator Ron Wyden’s recent visit to Japan. Sen. Wyden sent out an alarm to the US government via Reuters concerning the spent fuel at Reactor #4. In the event of another tsunami, all that separated the spent fuel pools from damage was …”a small makeshift sea wall erected out of bags of rock.” (Source : http://www.wyden.senate.gov/news/press-releases/after-tours-of-fukushima-nuclear-power-station-wyden-says-situation-worse-than-reported) Wyden sent a letter of concern to Secretary of State Clinton, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and—Chairman Gregory Jaczko of the NRC. His letter to Chairman Jaczko of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was particularly telling. Wyden sums up the greater danger of the spent or irradiated fuel:

”Loss of containment in any of these pools especially the pool at Unit 4 which has the highest inventory of the hottest fuel could result in an even greater release of radiation than the initial accident. TEPCO’s December 21, 2011 remediation roadmap proposes to take up to ten years to complete spent fuel removal from all of the pools on the site. Given the compromised nature of these structures due to the events of March 11th, this schedule carries extraordinary and continuing risk if further seismic events were to occur. The true earthquake risk for this site was SERIOUSLY UNDERESTIMATED and remains unresolved. “ (Source: http://www.wyden.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Chairman-Jaczko)

Primary responsibility for the Fukushima-Daiichi disaster falls on TEPCO, as they failed to safeguard something as basic as ‘backup power generators.’ It is increasingly clear that for TEPCO—profits trump safety.

Blame can also be assessed on the Japanese ‘nuclear village, ie. METI, NISA and the NSC (Nuclear Safety Commission)—who stands accused of favoring corporate profits by compromising public safety.

Japanese Government Investigation Committee…

The Japanese Government Investigation Committee cited TEPCO on the following planning and safety concerns :

  • inadequate preparation against Station Blackout (SBO), including lack of DC power supplies;
  • omitted operational manuals essential for recovering instrumentation equipment and power supplies;
  • omitted plan for emergency water injection and seawater injection in the event of a coolant failure;
  • omitted preparation for emergency telecommunications lines in order to coordinate rescue plans,
  • no preparation for securing equipment, materials and operators.

The report highlighted the fact that many of the emergency power generators were stored in the basement of a turbine building, rather than a more secure reactor building. Space constraint was listed as the official reason for such ineffectual placement of emergency equipment. The tsunami of March 11, 2011 destroyed all 10 water cooled generators in the pursuant flood. Placement of power generators should have been more strategically planned.

To quote the report on the appropriate placement of backup generators at nuclear plants:

“An MIT report into the Fukushima disaster states: “Emergency backup generators, needed to keep the systems running when outside power is cut off as it was in this case, should be well separated into at least two locations— one situated high up, to protect against flooding, and the other down low to protect against hazards such as an airplane crash. These generators should also be housed in watertight rooms, as they already are at many U.S.plants.” (Source: http://www.foe.org/au/sites/default/files/FUKUSHIMA_BRIEFING_MARCH_2012.pdf)

In conclusion…

The loss of human life and environmental safety caused by the Fukushima-Daiichi disaster of March 11, 2011 was not inevitable. Due to a deadly combination of incompetent planning, obfuscation of facts and corporate greed—an environmental disaster of potentially global proportions has been set loose on all of us. Allowing corporations to hide behind ‘proprietary trade secrets’ when they commit environmental crimes has become a legal sanctuary favored by the most blue blood of law firms. This last item is the most damning of all these crimes. A crime against humanity—and this entire world is unfolding. How we deal with this disaster will determine whether future generations survive. To quote nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen:

“Now think about the ramifications for the nation’s capital, whether it is Tokyo or the United States. How would you like it if you went to pick your flowers and were kneeling in radioactive waste? That is what is happening in Tokyo now. And I think that is the point that Chairman Jaczko was trying to make. When the Nuclear Regulatory Commission does it’s cost benefit analyses now, it does not take into account the cost to society if you have to evacuate for generations or if you have to move 100,000 people, perhaps forever.” –Arnie Gundersen (Source: http://www.fairewinds.org/node/223)

Keep in mind—forever is a very long time.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not represent Eurasia Review.

Jeanine Molloff

Jeanine Molloff is an independent journalist. Molloff is a veteran urban educator specializing in communications disorders. She moonlights as a political commentator on various issues including civil liberties in an age of ‘terrorism’, ecological justice, collateral damage in war zones, economic equity and education.

One thought on “Japan: Fukushima: Politics Still ‘Trumps’ Safety – OpEd

  • April 29, 2012 at 1:32 am

    A private citizen collects dirt samples which he later says were found to be as radioactive as “nuclear waste”. And this is news because? Go here http://www.facebook.co/Tokyo.Radiation.Levels for actual Tokyo radiation monitoring information. Quite a discrepancy with Arnie Gunderson’s claim.


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