Fukushima meltdown continues around the world

| 12th March 2013
The damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station as seen during a sea-water sampling boat journey, 7 November 2013. Photo: IAEA Imagebank via Flickr.com.
The damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station as seen during a sea-water sampling boat journey, 7 November 2013. Photo: IAEA Imagebank via Flickr.com.
Three years after the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe hit our TV screens, Paul Mobbs examines the still unfolding global disaster - and the motives of politicians whose love of nuclear power is stronger, than it is wise.
The political support for nuclear power remains because politics does not know how to deal with the issues raised by our current energy crisis.

Three years ago today we first learned of the on-going meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

TV screens showed long lens shots of concrete buildings exploding in showers of dust, worsening the burdens of one of Japan's worst natural disasters in recent times.

The timing was unfortunate for some - such as the environmental activists who had recently gone 'pro-nuclear' - and that's not to forget one commentator who, remarkably, went pro-nuclear as a direct result of the catastrophe.

At the time that led me in to a media debate on the issue of nuclear power, although in reality we never got further than the issue of "how scary" the technology was.

Ultimately that discussion never really focused on the real energy issues - which I also set out in The Ecologist last week.

The meltdown continues

Three years on though, and the meltdown continues apace - far outside of Japan.

At Fukushima Daiichi itself, it emerged this week that ongoing problems managing the site (and the large costs involved in that process) are leading towards the nuclear industry's tried and tested methods of clean-up - deliberately polluting the environment.

Echoing the call from Tepco last year, former chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Dale Klein, said that the liquid wastes form the site should be dumped via "controlled releases" into the Pacific Ocean.

Which, to judge by the series of "accidental" leaks over the last two years, appears to have been the policy all along. All the more so as Tepco has no final resting place for the intensely radioactive water on the site - 300,000 tonnes to date, stored in 1,200 tanks, a volume that is increasing by thousands of tonnes a week.

In the US, Fukushima remains a live issue

The involvement of former US nuclear safety officials in the disaster is a testament to the problems Fukushima presents to the industry as a whole. As elsewhere around the world, this is a live political issue in the USA.

President Obama is seeking to give Government-backed loans to encourage the development of new nuclear plants.

And rejuvenating the Fukushima story, NBC News just ran a story, based on freedom of information requests, detailing how the US safety regulators deliberately played-down the risks to the public. 

"While we know more than these say", Nuclear Regulatory Commission Public Affairs Director Eliot Brenner wrote in emails in 2011, "we're sticking to this story for now."

Meanwhile, in Canada the plume of radioactive water from Fukushima, brought across the Pacific by ocean currents, is just arriving on the shores of British Columbia. Environmental sampling has shown the first 'Fukushima footprint' on the shorelines of the rivers around Vancouver.

In fact that's just the tip of a large 'liquid iceberg' that's been studied by scientists for the last year or so. And already, in advance of the arrive of the plume on US shores, the media is being cranked up with fear, uncertainty and doubt to bury the facts of story.

And in Britain ...

We have the extraordinary spectacle of the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, the LibDems and UKIP all strongly supporting new nuclear power in the UK - never mind that it will cost UK taxpayers and energy users untold billions in subsidies, and do nothing to solve any short term 'power gap'.

And in the case of the LibDems - never mind that those now assiduously promoting the technology were, before the election, all strongly opposed to it as a fundamental point of principle. So now the only political opposition is coming from the Green Party.

As published in The Ecologist yesterday the support package for Hinkley C runs foul of the EU's competition laws - and may well be stopped for that reason. Curious it is how even confirmed neo-liberals - who in ordinary circumstances profess to hate any kind of subsidy - are entirely content to throw tens of billions at the nuclear white elephant.

Could it happen here?

Rather more worryingly, the Hinkley nuclear site is situated just 50 metres from the Bristol Channel coast, and at an elevation of just 14 metres above sea level. Notwithstanding that a tsunami struck the Bristol Channel in 1607 causing immense damage and widespread flooding.

contemporary account speaks of "mighty hilles of water tombling over one another in such sort as if the greatest mountains in the world had overwhelmed the lowe villages or marshy grounds. Sometimes it dazzled many of the spectators that they imagined it had bin some fogge or mist coming with great swiftness towards them and with such a smoke as if mountains were all on fire, and to the view of some it seemed as if myriads of thousands of arrows had been shot forth all at one time."

If it happened before, it can happen again. Indeed a 4.1 magnitude earthquake took place only last month (February 2014) in the mouth of the Bristol Channel.

The political lesson of Fukushima in the UK, it seems, is to follow the example of the 'three wise monkeys' - "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil". Could it be more than mere coincidence that the monkeys come to us via ancient Japanese tradition?

Expediency rules

One thing is certain - the nuclear power issue has not moved on one millimetre towards any resolution.

The political support for nuclear power remains because politics does not know how to deal with the issues raised by our current energy crisis. The public is still unsupportive because, irrespective of official reassurances, the nuclear story refuses to go away.

And in Japan, the Fukushima nuclear crisis continues today - hidden behind concrete and plastic contamination screens, and even more fearsome legal barriers to the publication or dissemination of information about Fukushima.

Politics is still looking for the most expedient rather than the right solution to the problem.



Paul Mobbs is an independent environmental consultant, researcher and author. See his Free Range Activism website.

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