Sunday 11 March 2012

Fukushima remembered

A year on from the massive earthquake damage and tsunami that overwhelmed the Fukushima power plant, the true scale of that nuclear disaster is now, unfortunately, all too clear.

Yet, amid all the anniversary reports and events today, it's worth remembering that, in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, the nuclear industry sought desperately to hide the scale of the disaster.

Looking back on my blog from a year ago,, I think these conclusions still ring true:

It is worth remembering how, in the days immediately after the earthquake, nuclear ‘experts’ all insisted that the situation was under control. However some critics – including this blog – realised very quickly that this would prove to be the world’s second most serious nuclear disaster - after Chernobyl.

What’s also emerging is the shameful way that the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) ignored the obvious risks of a tsunami knocking out the vital back-up systems that could maintain cooling to its reactors and spent fuel pools.

TEPCO has consistently tried to hide behind the excuse that the March 11 tsunami was “beyond the scope of the assumption”. Yet Japanese media report that seismologist Yukinobu Okamura had warned TEPCO in 2009 that the Fukushima plant was situated in an area where a major tsunami had previously struck ten centuries ago.

Worse, in 2007, TEPCO’s own senior safety engineer, Toshiaki Sakai, estimated that there was a 10% chance that in the next 50 years a tsunami could strike that would overwhelm the plant. TEPCO did nothing. The station’s defences were only built to withstand a maximum 6-metre high wave. On March 11 a 14-metre wave struck the plant.

Particular concerns had also been raised about the design of the ageing General Electric designed Mark I reactors used at Fukushima. U.S. researchers pointed to the particular dangers from loss of power and the risk of hydrogen explosions when venting the reactors to relieve pressure. That’s exactly what happened in reactors No.1 and No.3.

Warnings had also been given about the need to have access to key gauges and instruments to be able to monitor reactors in the middle of a crisis. Again, the concerns went unheeded.

Unfortunately, none of this is really any surprise. Big business always looks to short-term profits first and puts the long-term future of the environment a very long way down its list of concerns. Having ignored the dangers of global warming, many capitalist leaders have turned to nuclear power as a solution. But the risk of catastrophic failures and design flaws - even in technologically advanced Japan – is unavoidable. Nor has any safe method for the long-term storage of spent fuel ever been devised.

The pursuit of profit bears further responsibility for today’s crisis. It has proved difficult to supply power from the West of Japan to the ravaged East, partly because the power grids are run on different ac frequencies (50Hz in the East and 60Hz in Western Japan). This stems directly from the post-war US administration’s break-up and privatisation of the Japan Electric Generation and Transmission Company- in order to undermine the strong All Japan Electric Workers’ Union. See
Immediate and longer-term effects of disaster

As that article from a Japanese socialist explains, as the immediate shock at the aftermath of the earthquake subsides, there will be growing anger at the way big business profiteers have put Japanese workers at risk – and how they continue to try and profiteer out of the misery facing those whose lives have been ruined by the consequences of the Sendai earthquake.

Internationally too, the Fukushima disaster has spurred growing protests against nuclear power, particularly in Germany. It is only international co-operation that can provide a way out of the failed energy and environmental policies of the world’s major powers. Only international planning – based on a socialist future – can provide that solution.

UPDATE: See this report of the anniversary demonstration in Taiwan:
"The struggle to ‘control’ Fukushima was fought largely by sub-contracted casual labourers under TEPCO’s outsourced employment structure. These heroes of Fukushima for the most part do not receive pensions or medical insurance from the company".

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