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Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011
Post-Fukushima, 'they' can no longer be trusted — if ever they could
Special to The Japan Times
Every year when I was a child, my parents would take my brother and me from our Los Angeles home to Las Vegas on vacation. Back then in the 1950s, Vegas was still a family-oriented holiday destination. Dad would drop a few bucks at the crap table while the rest of us basked in the sun.
I vividly recall, one late afternoon, looking out over the desert that stretched endlessly from our hotel and pointing to a rather eerie glow over the horizon.
"That's from the atom-bomb testing they do," Dad explained.
"But isn't that dangerous, Dad?"
"Do you think they would do it if it was dangerous?"
That was the average person's attitude at the time toward nuclear testing in the atmosphere: "They" wouldn't do it if it caused harm.
That incident from my childhood sprang to mind when the reactors at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant began to spew radioactive materials into the environment. The Japanese public had the wool pulled well over their eyes, just as my father had.
They had made the fatal mistake of believing that the government officials and company executives carrying out nuclear tests and establishing nuclear power facilities had the interests of their countries and their citizens at heart; while, in fact, what motivated both was the lust for power and an all-consuming greed.
Now that lust and greed have wreaked havoc across huge swaths of the Tohoku region in northeastern Honshu. And no one has been a more ardent and articulate champion of the truth about the dangers of nuclear power — and allowing that lust and greed to rule our lives — than Takashi Hirose.
His latest book, "Fukushima Meltdown: The World's First Earthquake-Tsunami-Nuclear Disaster," has just become available online as a Kindle book in an excellent and fluid translation by a team under the guidance of American author and scholar, Douglas Lummis.
Originally published as "Fukushima Genpatsu Merutodaun" by Asahi Shinsho on May 30, 2011, this is the book that Hirose had hoped he would never have to write. For three decades he has been warning Japanese people about the catastrophes that could been visited on their country — and now his worst nightmare has become a reality.
"This is called the '3/11 Disaster' by many," he writes, "but it did not happen on 3/11, it began on 3/11 and it is continuing today. ... Nuclear power plants are a wildly dangerous way to get electricity and are unnecessary. The world needs to learn quickly from Japan's tragedy."
Hirose points out that from day one of the disaster the situation in Fukushima had reached the highest level of nuclear accidents, namely level 7 — and from the outset, the government was keenly aware of this fact. But it chose to conceal the truth from the people.
"In past nuclear-plant disasters — those at Chernobyl (in present-day Ukraine, in 1986) and at Three Mile Island (in Pennsylvania in the United States, in 1979) — only one reactor was involved in each. However, at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, four reactors went critical at the same time."
On March 13, two days after the tsunami that followed the magnitude-9 Great East Japan Earthquake, Masataka Shimizu, the president of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), the operator of the stricken nuclear plant, said at a press conference:
"The tsunami was beyond all previous imagination. In the sense that we took all measures that could be thought of for dealing with a tsunami, there was nothing wrong with our preparations."
As Hirose and many other commentators have pointed out, Tepco executives and government planners knew perfectly well that tsunamis far exceeding 20 meters in height struck that very region in 1896 and again, 37 years later, in 1933.
The 14-meter-high tsunami that inundated many of the Fukushima No. 1 plant's facilities was, in fact, well within the parameters of what could objectively be termed "expected" — and was simply not "beyond all previous imagination," as Shimizu claimed.
In fact, the willful absence of care by both industry and government comprises nothing less than a blatant act of savagery against the people of Japan.
This book is full of enlightening technical explanations on every aspect of nuclear safety, from structural safeguards (and their clear inadequacy) to the nature of hydrogen explosions and meltdowns.
Hirose warns us, with detailed descriptions of the lay of the land and the features of each reactor, about the nuclear power plants at Tomari in Hokkaido, Higashidori in Aomori Prefecture and Onagawa in Miyagi Prefecture; about other plants in Ibaraki, Ishikawa, Shimane, Ehime, Saga and Kagoshima prefectures; and perhaps most dangerous of all, about the 14 reactors along the Wakasa Coast in Fukui Prefecture, constituting what I would call Hōshanō Yokochō (Radioactivity Alley).
Many of the reactors at these plants are aging and plagued with serious structural problems.
"I have looked through the 'Nuclear Plant Archipelago' from north to south," writes Hirose. "I cannot suppress my amazement that on such narrow islands, laced with active earthquake faults, and with earthquakes and volcanoes coming one after another, so many nuclear power plants have been built."
There is no shortage of electricity-generating potential in this country. The 10 regional electric power monopolies have perpetrated the myth of the inevitability of nuclear power in order to manipulate this essential market to their own gain.
Tepco created a fear of blackouts this past summer in order to aggrandize its own "sacrificial" role.
As Hirose points out, Japan is not a preindustrial country; blackouts are not an issue.
Many major companies could independently produce sufficient electricity to cover all of Japan's industrial and domestic needs. They are prevented from doing so by the monopolies created by self-interested businessmen and bureaucrats, and by their many lobbyists occupying seats in the Diet.
Hirose states: "Electrical generation and electrical transmission should be separated, and the state should manage the transmission systems in the public interest. ... The great fear is that there are many nuclear power plants in the Japanese archipelago that could become the second or third Fukushima. These nuclear plants could cause catastrophes exceeding the Fukushima disaster and thus affect the whole country and possibly the world."
There is little difference between this situation and the one in the 1930s, when all-powerful business conglomerates and complying politicians "convinced" the Japanese people that it was in their interests to go to war.
One thing comes out of all of this with crystal clarity: "They" can no longer be trusted — if ever they could.
The health and welfare of millions of people living in the vicinity of nuclear bomb testing in the atmosphere around the world — and not just in the Nevada desert outside Las Vegas — was compromised by self-serving bureaucrats, politicians and corporate officials.
Our health and welfare in this country is no less compromised by cynical self-serving bureaucrats, politicians and corporate officials who deny their responsibility for showering us in that very same radiation.
Nuclear testing in the atmosphere has ceased. No longer do parents "assure" their children that there is no danger because "they" say so. And yet, the dangers of radioactive contamination of the environment by nuclear plants exist around us today.
All nuclear power plants in Japan should be shut down now, lest we find ourselves one day viewing Fukushima as the first of a chain of tragedies that threaten our lives and the very existence of the Japanese nation.
Counterpoint will be taking a seasonal interlude on Oct. 30, but will return Nov. 6.