Julia Davis is a National Security/Foreign Policy Reporter, Russian Media Monitor, creator of RussiaLies.com, Screenwriter, Producer, member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Screen Actors Guild and other prestigious industry guilds, serving as an Advisory Council member for the Hollywood Stuntman Hall of Fame. Her investigative reports and interviews are prominently featured by print publications and news outlets.
Disturbing sense of Déjà Vu continues to permeate the information coming in about Japan’s Fukushima plant nuclear disaster. In spite of troubling revelations, we’re being told not to worry.
Japan's Energy Secretary Steven Chu made the rounds on American talk shows, stating that people in the U.S. are “in no danger” and as far as Japan is concerned, “we'll see what comes.” Being lulled into a false sense of security usually results in a rude awakening. The truth may not be comforting, but is definitely past due.
The design of the reactors at the Fukushima power plant has been criticized for almost 40 years. The cascade of events unfolding there had been foretold 20 years ago, in a report by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It listed earthquake-induced diesel generator failure and power outage leading to failure of cooling systems as one of the “most likely causes” of nuclear accidents. One report said that these reactors had a 90 % probability of bursting should the fuel rods overheat and melt. This is currently one of the most pressing concerns.
All six boiling water reactors at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant were designed by General Electric Co. (GE). Toshiba Corp. built reactors No. 3 and No. 5. Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy Ltd. built reactor No. 4. Engineer Mitsuhiko Tanaka helped design and supervise the manufacturing of a $250 million steel pressure vessel for Tokyo Electric (TEPCO) in 1975.
Today, that vessel holds the fuel rods in the core of the No. 4 reactor at Fukushima’s Dai-Ichi plant, hit by explosion and fire after the tsunami. Tanaka says the vessel was damaged in the production process. The law required that it be scrapped, which would have likely bankrupted the company. An elaborate cover-up ensued, devising a way to reshape the vessel so that no one would know it had been damaged to begin with. Tanaka claims that he did that with Hitachi’s approval.
After the Chernobyl disaster, Tanaka finally blew the whistle on the cover-up by reporting it to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). METI disclosed the whistleblower’s name to TEPCO and attempted to bury information in collusion with the company. In a pattern familiar to whistleblowers around the world, Hitachi denied Tanaki’s assertions and the government refused to investigate. In 1990, Tanaka wrote a book called “Why Nuclear Power Is Dangerous”, detailing his experiences.
In 2002, Tokyo Electric admitted it had been falsifying repair reports at nuclear plants for over 20 years. President Nobuyama Minami and Chairman Hiroshi Araki stepped down, acknowledging responsibility for over 200 occasions in which the company had submitted false data to the regulators.
Five years later, Tokyo Electric admitted even more cover-ups at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi power station, including at least 6 emergency stoppages and a “critical” reaction at the plant’s unit No. 3 that lasted for 7 hours.
In spite of cover-ups and lies that jeopardized the safety of TEPCO’s facilities, its planned expansion includes Vietnam, Thailand and the US. In May 2010, TEPCO announced an agreement for the planned enlargement of the South Texas Project nuclear plant, in partnership with Nuclear Innovation North America LLC (NINA), a nuclear development company jointly owned by Toshiba and NRG Energy, Inc.
TEPCO is planning to expand within Japan as well, including units No. 7 and No. 8 of the Fukushima Daiichi plant (in 2014 and 2015), and units No. 1 and No. 2 of the Higashidori plant, facing the Pacific Ocean in northern Japan (in 2015 and 2018). Last month, residents protested as the company commenced new construction in the middle of the night at Iwai Island. Footage of the protest was recorded by documentary filmmaker Hitomi Kamanaka. She resigned from Japan’s broadcast company NHK after it refused to run her material criticizing the country’s nuclear power companies.
The recent chain of disasters prompted by the 9.0-magnitude quake ravaged Japan's northeastern coast, killing more than 7,600 people and knocking out cooling systems at the plant, prompting overheated reactors and fuel to leak radiation. An explosion damaged Reactor No. 4, as well as part of the adjacent Unit No. 3. Spent fuel pool at the Unit No. 4 reactor caught fire, releasing radioactive contamination.
As radiation levels rose, employees were evacuated from the plant. Helicopters were sent to dump sea water onto the reactors. Strong winds prevented effective targeting of the dumped water since high radiation levels prevent the helicopters from flying low. Much of the water dispersed in mid-air, weakening the intensity of the water that was expected to cool the overheating reactor. So far, most of the attempted solutions haven’t worked as planned.
Radiation is coming up from the crippled nuclear reactor at a continuous rate, forming a rising plume. The Fukushima crisis is already ranked the second-worst nuclear disaster after Chernobyl. As many suspect, the situation is a lot worse than the Japanese authorities admit.
Tokyo, which is about 170 miles from the stricken nuclear complex, has reported elevated radiation levels. On March 20, 2011 Japan's Health Ministry announced that tests had detected excess amounts of radioactive elements on canola and chrysanthemum greens. Radiation was also found in local milk and spinach, as well as in fava beans exported from Japan to Taiwan. Radioactive iodine and cesium turned up in Tokyo's tap water. Radioactive rain and dust also add to the ongoing contamination.
We’re repeatedly being told not to compare Fukushima to Chernobyl. While the full scale of Japan’s nuclear disaster is yet to be determined, those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it.
In 1986, during the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, people were told not to panic. Helicopters were sent to drop water, sand, lead, clay and boron onto the burning Reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Meanwhile, radiation levels continued to rise and the plume drifted over large parts of Europe.
Authorities repeatedly attempted to understate the scale of the disaster, which caused the release of 400 times more radioactive material than had been caused by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The total number of deaths attributable to the accident varies enormously and is estimated to be over 4,000. Greenpeace reported that "the most recently published figures indicate that in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine alone the accident could have resulted in an estimated 200,000 additional deaths in the period between 1990 and 2004."
A 2009 book published by the New York Academy of Sciences, “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment”, presented an analysis of scientific literature and concluded that medical records between 1986, the year of the accident, and 2004 reflect 985,000 deaths as a result of the radiation exposure.
The latency period for cancers caused by excess radiation exposure is 10 or more years – therefore, the death toll continues to rise over time. The after-effects of Chernobyl are expected to be seen for the next 100 years. The first thing children of the Ukraine, Russia and Belarus have to learn is to stay out of the rain, close their eyes whenever the wind is blowing dust and not to ever smell the flowers. Defending yourself against an invisible enemy is a daunting task.
The International Project on the Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident (IPEHCA) was created and received 20 million dollars, mainly from Japan, in hopes of discovering the main cause of health problems due to radiation. Sadly, Japan is now in desperate need of learning how to deal with the tragic effects of radiation exposure.
Governments of the world should be concerned with shielding their people from disasters – not from the truth.