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Saturday, 31 August 2013

Japan’s nuclear comedy just goes on and on

 Saturday, 31 August 2013



What has been will be again,

what has been done will be done again;

there is nothing new under the sun.

— Ecclesiastes 1:9

These words are said to have been penned by King Solomon around 3,000 years ago. Perhaps they were an augury of Japan’s nuclear industry. I’m sure somewhere there’s an original text that reads, “In the Land of the Melting Sun.”
Here’s the basic pattern: An accident occurs in Japan’s nuclear industry; those in charge fail to deal with it well; people suffer; those in charge lie to the public; finally they admit it and apologize profusely. Then the cycle is repeated.

The latest revelations of leaks from at least one of more than 1,000 storage tanks being used to store radiation-contaminated water at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) are really nothing new; it’s just another in a series of follies being handled in an irresponsible and short-sighted way.

True to form, while the media had been reporting on the problem for weeks, Tepco had denied it. Finally — and oddly, just after July’s Upper House elections — there was the admission, the obligatory apology, and an announcement by the Japanese government that it would come to the rescue.

They say those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it — yet the patterns of mishaps in Japan’s nuclear industry that I write about are so reproducible as to give me a strange sense of déjà vu. We have been here before.

The explosions and meltdowns of three reactors at Tepco’s Fukushima facility in March 2011, leading to massive leaks of radiation, comprised the world’s worst nuclear disaster since a reactor exploded at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the USSR (present-day Ukraine) in April 1986. In the northeastern Tohoku region of Honshu, where the Fukushima plant is located, more than 100,000 people have been forced to evacuate due to high radiation levels and the cleanup will likely take at least 40 years.

Tepco at first blamed the accident on “an unforeseen massive tsunami” triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011. Then it admitted it had in fact foreseen just such a scenario but hadn’t done anything about it.

A Special Diet Commission reporting in July 2012, and other studies, concluded that the earthquake alone probably damaged the cooling system of the Fukushima plant’s 40-year-old Reactor 1 so badly that, even before the tsunami, meltdown was inevitable because it would overheat so much.

In other words, some of Japan’s nuclear power plants may be unable to withstand an earthquake. Not a comforting thought in a country that has constant seismic activity.
Of course, “nuclear meltdown” itself was denied for months. Even up to May 2011, while the foreign media had long labeled the Fukushima disaster “a triple meltdown,” Tepco — and the national government — stonewalled, insisting that meltdown had not been confirmed.

Then finally, just a week before members of an International Atomic Energy Agency investigation team were to arrive in Japan, the government and Tepco admitted the facts — with the usual ritual apologies.

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