Japan radiation leaks feared as nuclear experts point to possible cover-up
Nuclear experts have thrown doubt on the accuracy of official information issued about the Fukushima nuclear accident, saying that it followed a pattern of secrecy and cover-ups employed in other nuclear accidents. “It’s impossible to get any radiation readings,” said John Large, an independent nuclear engineer who has worked for the UK government and been commissioned to report on the accident for Greenpeace International.
“The actions of the Japanese government are completely contrary to their words. They have evacuated 180,000 people but say there is no radiation. They are certain to have readings but we are being told nothing.” He said a radiation release was suspected “but at the moment it is impossible to know. It was the same at Chernobyl, where they said there was a bit of a problem and only later did the full extent emerge.”
According to some reports, 17 helicopter crewmen helping in rescue efforts were contaminated with low-level radiation, but Japanese officials declined to comment.
The country’s government has previously been accused of covering up nuclear accidents and hampering the development of alternative energy.
In a newly released diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks, politician Taro Kono, a high-profile member of Japan’s lower house, tells US diplomats that the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry – the Japanese government department responsible for nuclear energy – has been “covering up nuclear accidents and obscuring the true costs and problems associated with the nuclear industry”.
Fatal accidents damage Japan’s nuclear dream
Since 1999 a spate of accidents, scandals and cover-ups have shaken public confidence. In late September 1999, anti-nuclear activists in Japan and England discovered data relating to a shipment of mixed uranium-plutonium fuel manufactured at Sellafield that had been falsified by staff at British Nuclear Fuels.
The fuel was to be used in a plant near Mihama and operated by the same utility, Kansai Electric Power Co (Kepco). Despite warnings by Japanese activists that there was something strange about the data, BNFL and Kepco insisted there was nothing to worry about. Only when BNFL admitted the falsification was use of the fuel cancelled.
As anti-nuclear activists and Kepco were fighting over the meaning of numbers on a spreadsheet, Japan’s worst nuclear accident occurred at Tokaimura, near Tokyo, on 30 September 1999. Two workers at the plant died when they disregarded safety procedures and dumped a large quantity of uranium into a settling basin. The uranium reached critical mass, causing an explosion. Tens of thousands of people in the area were quarantined and checked for radiation.
Tokaimura was the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. It was also a turning point for Japan’s anti-nuclear movement. Tokaimura, the BNFL scandal and, in 2002, scandals at Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) in which the utility admitted it had covered up structural damage at its nuclear power plants, have led to a loss of public trust.
Rachel Maddow Details Japan’s Messy History of Nuclear Power Cover Ups
Rachel Maddow began, “At the news conference on the third explosion at the Japanese reactor, reporters were visibly angry with the company’s explanation of what happened with that explosion. To our understanding of an already stressful situation in Japan, we can also add Japan’s history frankly of scandals and cover-ups related to nuclear power and safety.”
She then listed the numerous recent cover ups in Japan of nuclear power incidents, “In 1995 in Japan when a reactor caught fire, the government run agency in charge of the reactor tried to cover up how bad the fire was by releasing a doctored video of the accident. In 2002, at TEPCO the company that owns the plants currently in crisis, the president at TEPCO and four other executives were forced to quit when it was revealed that TEPCO had been falsifying safety records at nuclear plants for years, dating back to the 1980s. Another power plant operator was force to shut down a reactor in 2007 after they acknowledged they covered up 15 minutes of year disaster in 1999 when an accident involving three fuel rods caused an out of control nuclear chain reaction.”
she also has several segments of her msnbc show about the nuclear disaster in japan
Safety on the Cheap
The New York Times reports that G.E. marketed the Mark 1 boiling water reactors, used in TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, as cheaper to build than other reactors because they used a comparatively smaller and less expensive containment structure.
Yet American safety officials have long thought the smaller design more vulnerable to explosion and rupture in emergencies than competing designs. (By the way, the same design is used in 23 American nuclear reactors at 16 plants.)
In the mid-1980s, Harold Denton, then an official with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said Mark 1 reactors had a 90 percent probability of bursting should the fuel rods overheat and melt in an accident. A follow-up report from a study group convened by the Commission concluded that “Mark 1 failure within the first few hours following core melt would appear rather likely.”