Diatribe for a Post-311 Generation: The Frying Dutchman‘s humanERROR*
How far have we strayed as humans to satisfy a quest for power, technology, and a seemingly advanced (still surprisingly subservient) society – and has it been worth it? Or better yet, will our children’s children’s children think it was worth it?
There are pros and cons regarding all alternative power, but the least we can hope for is supporting people’s needs with viable options that include the least amount of inherent risks (to organisms and environment). And is it too much to expect that geology play a part of the decision-making process? Considering the seismic activity, tsunamis, typhoons, freezing temperatures, unstable soil, potential volcanic eruptions, and high population density, is the Japanese archipelago quite possibly the worst setting for 54 nuclear plants?
For over a decade before 311, warnings about the potential perfect storm scenario for nuclear disaster in Japan went unheeded. This included admonitions from nuclear whistleblowers, geoscientists, and seismologists like Professor Ishibashi, who compared the nuclear situation in Japan to a “kamikaze terrorist wrapped in bombs just waiting to explode”. Even if Japan decides to reestablish pre-Fukushima levels of atomic power, within 20 years they may be forced to shut it all down due to their inability to deal with the overwhelming accumulation of radioactive waste. The persistent technological problems of Japan’s “too little, too late” Rokkasho nuclear storage facility – scheduled to open 15 years ago – plans to start up October 2012 and some are predicting it has an 80-90 percent chance of failure.
Even today, when the problems with Japan nuclear are touched upon by the media, they discuss Fukushima Daiichi, and rarely the fact that all but two of its reactors are still offline (many due to maintenance and “stress-tests” though some are still having functional issues.) What are these stress-tests anyway? Computer simulated models that, if passed, earn a blessing by the IAEA to restart the plant.
But wait, weren’t Japan’s power plants built to withstand earthquakes? One could imagine, since TEPCO has repeatedly denied that the earthquake had anything to do with the meltdowns, updated seismic retrofitting might not be part of the plan for any of the remaining nuclear plants. Eyewitness accounts of damage in the reactor buildings during the quake doesn’t seem relevant to plant officials. And TEPCO likely isn’t promoting the recent BBC documentary “This World Inside the Meltdown“, in which a worker discuss how the pipes were “ripping off the walls” before the waves hit. The film is required viewing btw; a day-by-day account with stories from plant workers / emergency workers / heros, residents… including how close to evacuation Fukushima Daiichi actually was. And yes, employees are not allowed to speak to the media.
Regardless of whether the reactors withstood the quake, the incoming wave doused the generators that were strategically stored in the basement, ensuring a lack of necessary power to pump water through the pipes into the reactor (that alone wouldn’t have mattered either, since the inadequately secured back-up ocean pumps were destroyed anyway). As well the lack of power delayed their ability to vent the reactors immediately after they saw the pressure building, which TEPCO surmises would have staved off the hydrogen/nuclear explosion (though you may opt to believe nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen‘s hypothesis on the Mark 1 reactor flaw and why the venting wouldn’t have made a difference).
Fact is, the reactors damaged in the disaster would have passed these same “stress tests” a week before Fukushima. And today, the many plants lined up across the shores poised for their potential worst-case-scenario will very likely pass them now. Are these stress tests based on faulty criteria? There are a few eyes on nuclear “watchdogs” NISA and IAEA, and they are already getting blasted for using the same standards post-311:
Reports on stress tests on 14 reactors have been submitted to Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. None of the tests covers a scenario involving multiple natural disasters and they were carried out even though the causes of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi meltdowns and hydrogen explosions are still being investigated”, said Masashi Goto, a former reactor designer who also serves on the committee.“The tests are nothing but an optimistic desk simulation based on the assumption that everything will happen exactly as assumed,” Goto said, adding that they don’t include margins for human error, design flaws or combinations of both. …”NISA has no plans to change the way the reviews are being conducted”, Tatsuya Taguchi, a NISA official in charge of nuclear safety regulatory standards, said by phone today. (BusinessWeek; Jan. 27, 2012)
Last July, before stepping down, Japan’s Prime Minister Kan had pledged a “revolutionary energy shift”, though today it seems the power companies and pro-nuclear officials are simply biding time before getting all of Japan’s nuclear back online. Perhaps they’ve been waiting for more advanced stages of collective amnesia to kick in; supported by financial necessity and stressing this summer’s energy demands. Threats by huge manufacturers and nuclear construction companies were not taken lightly either. It’s little wonder these same companies who built the reactors won the bids for the decon work throughout Japan – make some spare billions while this whole nuclear plant thingy gets cleared up. It is unfortunate that these corporations have no expertise in radiation clean-up, but no worries, it’s only the lowly hired help, not the executives, who are going to suffer for that. Nuclear industry critic Kiyoshi Sakurai said it best:
Decontamination is becoming big business. The construction companies are being paid to clean up the mess resulting from their own products. …the Japanese nuclear industry is run so that the more you fail, the more money you receive.
While Kan called for Japan to abandon nuclear, the new PM Noda was less specific during his first official speech, which occurred a day after 30,000 citizens attended an anti-nuke rally in Tokyo. Today though he’s quite clear, “all plants offline since March 11th should be restarted”. Despite new polls showing 66% of Japan wanting to phase out nuclear, we will likely see, one by one, plants run through the “stress tests” being turned back on, beginning in areas with the least public and mayoral opposition.
But the issue not being confronted remains the same: Are these reactors safe? Can we surmise that in less than a year they were able to do adequate retrofitting (9.0+ quakes) at all the plants? Build massive tsunami barricades? Have generators and switch boards stationed outside of potential tsunami flood zones? Create additional secure back-up power systems that would last at least a few days? Upgrade safety-related cooling pumps? Hire competent management with a nuclear engineering background? Start the decommissioning of all Mark 1 reactors? Provide adequate emergency contingencies – including immediate SPEEDi and radioactive fallout data to residents with proper evacuation procedures based on meteorological conditions. And heck, throw in a law that would condemn any agency withholding or manipulating such information to everlasting shame while serving a (short) life sentence in the new nuclear work camp aka Fukushima? And while they’re at it, require a 1/4 of a trillion insurance policy for every nuclear plant, as that is an estimate of what 25 years of clean-up will cost.
TEPCO says Fukushima will take 40 years of man-power (utilizing new technologies/robots that do not yet exist) to decommission the plant. It will take supposedly 10 years to remove the spent fuel rods and melted fuel (which is… well, who knows exactly where all the fuel is). The situation there will continue its precarious existence probably throughout our lifetime. And since they won’t allow any outside forces to assist, we need to count on officials at TEPCO, and the government, to make the right decisions. If the temperature fluctuations and steam releases in the past month alone are any sign, we might as well explain away “cold shutdown” as not very cold, stable, or shut down. Nuclear plants remain, scattered across Japan, sitting on fault lines, in danger zones, storing massive amounts of radioactive materials. The 311 anniversary is soon upon us, and the Perfect Storm scenario for Japan’s nuclear hasn’t changed, whether they turn these reactors back on or not.
Perhaps apathy via obedience doesn’t have to dominate Japanese culture, or more specifically Japanese youth. They are the ones who are going to experience the brunt of this situation by way of negative health effects and likely a huge increase in cancer rates, especially in females. But that kind of information is not discussed much in the Japanese media – in fact, the people are immersed in misinformation, and now the Education Ministry (which runs the Nuclear Safety Division, eh-hem) is issuing new text books for kids that promote nuclear and downplay radiation. These days, it takes a lot of guts for Japanese citizens to speak out, especially about the inherent dangers of external and internal exposure to radioactive particles currently spreading throughout Japan. So I appreciate The Frying Dutchman screaming it from the streets of Japan to the world. Maybe this disaster was the wake-up call… and this song a new anthem. Hopefully the Japanese people don’t sweep the radioactive dust under the rug and go back to business as usual. Hopefully 311 can inspire an intelligent transition to more responsible power options. And hopefully the youth of Japan seize the moment to use the tragedy to inspire a positive evolution.
Speaking of which… The Frying Dutchman are holding a HumanERROR One Million Person Parade for the anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, with get-togethers and events across Japan, March 10th / 11th, 2012. They will also play on March 11th at 1p.m. at the Tidanowa Festival in Okinawa. Watch live on Upstream. Click here to register.