Whee! See what untrammeled capitalism gets us? And I do mean us: A nuclear disaster in Japan puts us eventually in harm’s way.
“Japan is the best-prepared country in the world for the twin disasters of earthquake and tsunami — practices that undoubtedly saved lives,” said James Glanz and Norimitsu Onishi in The New York Times.
But Yoichi Shimatsu, an investigative journalist who covered the Great Hashin Earthquake near Kobe and the Sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway, which both occurred in 1995, disagrees. “Most people assume that the meticulous Japanese are among the world’s most responsible citizens,” Shimatsu writes in New American Media. “I beg to differ. Japan is better than elsewhere in organizing official cover-ups.”
“Over the decades, the Japanese public has been reassured by the Tokyo Electric Power Company that its nuclear reactors are prepared for any eventuality,” says Shimatsu. But he notes that “in 1996, amid a reactor accident in Ibaraki province, the government never admitted that radioactive fallout had drifted over the northeastern suburbs of Tokyo. Reporters obtained confirmation from monitoring stations, but the press was under a blanket order not to run any alarming news, facts be damned. For a nation that has lived under the atomic cloud of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, total denial becomes possible because the finger on the button is our own.”
In 2002, Japan’s Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency “found 29 alleged false records relating to cracks detected at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s nuclear plants from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. The agency started its investigation into the records two years ago based on a tip from a whistle-blower,” according to The Daily Yomiuri.
“The company falsified reports regarding voluntary inspections at 13 nuclear reactors at three power plants — the No. 1 and No. 2 Fukushima nuclear power plants in Fukushima Prefecture and the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture. The false records include some that fail to mention cracks discovered in the core structures of the nuclear reactors.”
In her 2009 book In Mortal Hands: A Cautionary History of the Nuclear Age, Uranium Intelligence Weekly editor Stephanie Cooke noted that TEPCO “eventually admitted to two hundred occasions over more than two decades between 1977 and 2002, involving the submission of false technical data to authorities.”
The explosion in Unit 1 was almost surely a hydrogen explosion. Pressure has been building up in the containment since offsite power was lost to the reactor because of the earthquake/tsunami. The GE Mark I reactor design is called a “pressure suppression” design. Rather than be built to withstand large pressure increases, General Electric sought with this design to attempt to reduce such increases in an accident scenario.
The design has been criticized by independent nuclear experts and even Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff for many years. In this case, the design clearly did not work. 24 U.S. reactors use the GE Mark I design.
The evacuation zone around the site has been expanded to 20 kilometers (about 12 miles). Another reactor at Fukushima Daiichi, Unit 2, is reported to be without cooling capability at this time. Three reactors at the nearby Fukushima Daini site are reported to be without cooling capability. These are GE Mark II designs, which are considered a mild improvement over the Mark I design. Both sites are on the Pacific Ocean, about six miles apart.
An NRC analysis of the potential failure of the Mark I under accident conditions concluded in a 1985 report that Mark I failure within the first few hours following core melt would appear rather likely.”
In 1986, Harold Denton, then the NRC’s top safety official, told an industry trade group that the “Mark I containment, especially being smaller with lower design pressure, in spite of the suppression pool, if you look at the WASH 1400 safety study, you’ll find something like a 90% probability of that containment failing.”
In order to protect the Mark I containment from a total rupture it was determined necessary to vent any high pressure buildup. As a result, an industry workgroup designed and installed the “direct torus vent system” at all Mark I reactors. Operated from the control room, the vent is a reinforced pipe installed in the torus and designed to release radioactive high pressure steam generated in a severe accident by allowing the unfiltered release directly to the atmosphere through the 300 foot vent stack. Reactor operators now have the option by direct action to expose the public and the environment to unknown amounts of harmful radiation in order to “save containment.” As a result of GE’s design deficiency, the original idea for a passive containment system has been dangerously compromised and given over to human control with all its associated risks of error and technical failure.