Fukushima Daiichi Reactor #4 is supposedly ready to withstand a large earthquake (5 July 2012). Its rectangular spent fuel pool is now covered with metal plates, in the photo's foreground. Image Source: Kyodo News and Enformable via ENE News.
In Japan, finger-pointing and mass protests continue over the Fukushima nuclear crisis. In late June and early July 2012, Internet eco-chatter dubbed popular protests against the reopening of nuclear plants, the 'Hydrangea Revolution.' On 11 June 2012, 1,324 Fukushima residents lodged a criminal complaint against TEPCO and government officials for their responsibility in the disaster.
How can officials be held responsible for the outcome of a devastating earthquake and tsunami? On 5 July 2012, a parliamentary committee inquiring into the crisis decided that TEPCO had neglected safety measures at the plant for decades. The 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami were natural disasters, but the damage they helped cause at the Fukushima Daiichi site could have been completely avoided:
Heads are rolling, although the people providing accusations and counter-accusations may have good reason to cover their own tracks and expose someone else's. If it weren't so tragic and horrible, it would have all the makings of a big budget cinematic thriller. By laying blame at TEPCO's feet, the ruling weirdly exonerates the nuclear industry in general. The message is: nuclear power plants are safe, as long as they are run according to high standards.A Japanese parliament-appointed panel investigating the Fukushima plant disaster released a report the same day saying the calamity could have been prevented if regulators and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. had taken appropriate safety steps, calling it "clearly a man-made disaster."
It's amazing how Millennial double-think and disinformation can contradict reality. On 27 June 2012, TEPCO announced that its workers sent a robot into Reactor #1 (see the robot's grim video, with radiation-speckled feed, here) and found record levels of radiation at the surface of coolant water, and levels thousands of times higher in the sediment in the containment vessel. From the Jarkarta Post:
According to former nuclear industry engineer-turned-nuclear-critic, Arnie Gundersen, these radiation levels indicate that Reactor #1's containment vessel has been breached. In other words, he believes that the China Syndrome occurred in Reactor #1. In March 2012, the New York Times reported (via the Star Tribune) that China Syndromes took place at Reactors #1, #2 and #3:Tokyo Electric Power Co. said it detected 10,300 millisieverts [10 Sv] of radiation per hour in the basement of a building housing the No. 1 reactor of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the highest radiation recorded in the plant's reactor buildings.
According to the utility's announcement Wednesday, it would take about 20 seconds for a worker exposed to this level of radiation to reach the government-set, annual cumulative dose limit of 50 millisieverts. Acute symptoms of radiation exposure such as vomiting would develop in about six minutes.
TEPCO said it needs to identify and repair spots where radiation-contaminated water is leaking in the building as it moves toward decommissioning the No. 1 reactor. The power company said such work will be difficult, as the high radiation makes it necessary to use robots instead of human workers.
That NYT report also noted a radiation level of 72 Sv inside the containment vessel of Reactor #2. It is extraordinary that the world's media are not digging deeper into this story on a day-to-day basis. Three China Syndromes? Why are blogs, obscure little TV programmes, fringe Web sites, ENE and Russia Today still the only regular sources on this story? Is the Fourth Estate really so impoverished? This is a lesson on how Old School journalism still rules as far as shaping conventionally-accepted truths is concerned. If 'viable,' established professional journalists do not report on a phenomenon, it need not be worried about, or even be seriously considered to exist. Pro-nuclear industry supporters can merely point to a wild-eyed vlog and disdainfully dismiss any such source of criticism. But in a mad world, madmen speak the truth, and might be sane.Fukushima Daiichi's vital cooling systems were knocked out in the early stages of the crisis last year. The uranium cores at three of the plant's six reactors quickly melted down, breaching their containment vessels and triggering a massive radiation leak.
Media silence arises because, despite Fukushima's dismal case, international corporate and government interests remain optimistic about further nuclear plant developments. A glance at the trade reports reveals that nuclear power is at a crossroads.
Ageing plants must be decomissioned, and so the industry is thriving, rushing to build new plants to fill the generational energy gaps in a flurry of high-powered horse-trading and bidding wars over big construction contracts. This is happening domestically in developed countries. These countries are also exporting their tech to developing countries, while striving to retain control of the nuclear science behind nuclear power plants (a futile exercise in this time of globalized graduate education). Indeed, the nuclear power industry is tied to the nuclear weapons industry. In other words, plutonium fallout or no plutonium fallout, it is business as usual (except for, or maybe including, Iran). Instead of taking Fukushima as an ominous warning to rethink our approach to fossil fuel alternatives, industry leaders are ignoring the crisis and its terrible impact. Who says colonialism is dead or that America is the only post-colonial, neo-imperial power? Rubbish. Imperialism is alive and well, enjoying a financial renaissance, evident in business buzz across the Internet.
For example, the Russians look to expand nuclear power systems at home and abroad. The Russians, incidentally, own 20 per cent of surplus American uranium on US territory; they are currently mining uranium in Wyoming. The head of Rosatom, Sergey Kirienko, insists that advanced Russian technology makes nuclear energy systems perfectly safe and environmentally friendly, promising "post-Fukushima solutions for new nuclear power plants." Stidently offering total transparency, he acknowledges that nuclear weapons industries are intimately connected to nuclear power interests, and so the state will always retain control over the entire industry.
In Canada in November 2011, the paper version of the National Post ran an 8-page insert from Mediaplanet confidently proclaiming the stellar opportunities in the nuclear power industry. "Now Is The Time," one ad headline runs, "To Move Forward With New CANDU Reactors." Kivalliq Energy Corporation dominates a high-quality uranian project in the Arctic's Nunavut Territory. The President of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Dr. Michael Binder, smiles benignly, in an article which promises that the "uranium mining and milling industry" is a "safely regulated resource" precisely because it is "the only mining industry in Canada that is licensed, regulated and monitored by the federal government." A panel of experts - Joseph Zwetolitz (Westinghouse), Denise Carpenter (Canadian Nuclear Association), Mark Morabito (Crosshair Energy Corporation), and Dr. Richard Spencer (U308 Corporation) - all trumpet Canada's virtues as an "energy superpower" (Zwetolitz); nuclear challenges as "opportunities" (Carpenter); reactors becoming defunct at age 40 means that this is the best time to build new ones (Morabito); and "Canadian explorers are ... advancing significant discoveries in emerging markets such as South America that are viewed as the next frontier for uranium development" (Spencer). Among other industry promises to find "A New Use For Old Nukes," Jeremy Whitlock of the Canadian Nuclear Society debunks "Radiation Fears and Myths." In June 2012, Prime Minister Harper struck a total of $3 billion in Canadian contracts to service China's energy sector.
In the United States, the Obama administration supports nuclear power. And the Republicans support it too. There are labour disputes at the older American nuclear plants, including the Pilgrim plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts - the very birthplace of the country! There are also contracts coming up to support ageing plants and keep them running - one example is Vermont Yankee. New plants have been greenlit, a pair each in South Carolina and Georgia. Uranium mining remains hopeful, expecting American nuclear power to increase 10 per cent by 2035. Politicians advise investors in Florida to support the nuclear industry because it is a source of so-called "green jobs." Even so, there are bumps in the road. There are real fears that Fukushima fallout has poisoned much of the western United States and Canada, and perhaps more of North America. On 8 June 2012, the US Court of Appeals, DC Circuit, ruled that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission could not license or re-licence any nuclear power plants until environmental and safety issues had been thoroughly researched. This ruling arose in response to petitioners from Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont.
In the United Kingdom, Chinese companies are bidding to build new nuclear power plants, along with the French company Areva and Russia's Rosatom. The Canadians are advising the Brits on building 6 CANDU nuclear plants which recycle fissile material stocks by burning (potentially deadly) MOX fuel. The Birmingham Policy Commission, released 2 July 2012, advised that the government must help carry the costs of building a new generation of nuclear power plants and also shoulder the burdens if anything goes wrong: "The fact is that the financial risks associated with building new nuclear power stations are beyond the balance sheets of many utility companies and therefore need to be shared between the public and private sectors." Ah, the cross-pollination of public and private, the new watchword of post-Recession hybridized economies. The Birmingham Policy Commission warned against the Brits' "drift" away from nuclear power and strongly advised the government must rebuild "the UK as a suitably qualified nuclear nation." The Commission drily stated that the after-effects of the earthquake and tsunami stood as: "testament to nuclear power’s credentials."
On 3 July 2012, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault promised the "government's commitment to reduce France's reliance on nuclear power for electricity production." But French nuclear companies are moving ahead - along with American, Chinese, Russian and other multinational firms - bidding to build nuclear plants in the UK (Areva and EDF); the Czech Republic (Areva); the UAE (Areva, EDF, GDF Suez SA, Total SA); South Africa (EDF); Finland (Framatome ANP/Areva); and India (Areva). Due to political troubles, French firms like Framatome, NPI and Areva lost bids to Chinese companies for contracts in Turkey.
There are other nuclear players offering or seeking contracts: Argentina, Sweden, South Korea, Taiwan, Lithuania, Mexico, Saudi Arabia (!), Vietnam and Malaysia, the Philippines, to name a few. Germany, Switzerland (although not quite yet), and Belgium are among the countries which have decided to phase out nuclear energy and search for classic alternatives as well as other technologies and options, giving rise to non-nuclear energy contracts. Win or lose, it's all about big money.