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Thread: Chaos in Japan - Earthquake, Tsunami, Nuclear plant on fire...

  1. #101
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    U.S. Was Warned on Vents Before Failure at Japan’s Plant


    WASHINGTON — Five years before the crucial emergency vents at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant were disabled by an accident they were supposed to help handle, engineers at a reactor in Minnesota warned American regulators about that very problem.

    Anthony Sarrack, one of the two engineers, notified staff members at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the design of venting systems was seriously flawed at his reactor and others in the United States similar to the ones in Japan. He later left the industry in frustration because managers and regulators did not agree.

    Mr. Sarrack said that the vents, which are supposed to relieve pressure at crippled plants and keep containment structures intact, should not be dependent on electric power and workers’ ability to operate critical valves because power might be cut in an emergency and workers might be incapacitated. Part of the reason the venting system in Japan failed — allowing disastrous hydrogen explosions — is that power to the plant was knocked out by a tsunami that followed a major earthquake.

    Copies of Mr. Sarrack’s correspondence with the N.R.C. were supplied by David Lochbaum, a boiling-water-reactor expert who works for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit group based in Cambridge, Mass., that is generally hostile to nuclear power.

    “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission cannot claim ignorance about this one,” he said.

    Plant managers and nuclear regulators are warned about far more problems each year than actually occur, but in this case, the cautionary note was eerily prescient and could rekindle debate over whether automatic venting systems are safer alternatives.

    While staff members at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission considered Mr. Sarrack’s warning, they decided against changes.

    On Wednesday, a commission spokesman, Scott Burnell, said the commission still believed that existing venting systems were a “reasonable and appropriate means” of dealing with a rise in pressure after an accident. But he has also said that the commission’s staff members are studying the events at Fukushima Daiichi for “lessons learned,” and that they had identified means of “reducing risk even further” by making the vents “more passive.” He said the staff had not yet chosen a way to do that.

    One way would be using rupture disks, relatively thin sheets of steel that break and allow venting without any operator command or moving parts when the pressure reaches a specified level. But many in the industry argue that using such a disk requires that there be a way to close the vent once pressure is relieved in order to hold in radioactive materials.

    The accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant was the first time the venting systems were put to the test.

    Pressure began to build in three reactors soon after the tsunami hit because the plant’s cooling system stopped operating when the electricity went off. Without an adequate flow of cool water in the reactors, the fuel rods began to overheat and produce explosive hydrogen gas.

    Managers were worried about venting because it would release significant amounts of radioactive materials, but when they finally gave the order to do so — after being told to by the government — the workers found the venting system inoperable. With the power out, their commands from the control room did not open the valves. They then discovered that that radiation levels at one reactor were so high they could not attempt to manually open the valve. And at two other reactors, their attempts to open the valves failed, possibly because the equipment itself was damaged in the earthquake.

    In Units No. 1 and No. 3, the gas leaked from primary containment structures and fueled explosions that ripped apart the reactor buildings, spewing radioactive material into the air. Unit No. 2 suffered a hydrogen explosion inside the primary containment.

    Mr. Sarrack, reached by telephone, said that his proposal was opposed by the operations department officials at his company, who wanted direct control over the reactor rather than employing automatic systems. He was working at the time at the nuclear plant in Monticello, on the Mississippi River near Minneapolis.

    He said he continued to believe that a passive system, like one using a rupture disk, would work better and could be set to rupture at a pressure just slightly less than the pressure at which the containment would rupture. In those cases, he said, venting is always preferable; the releases of radioactive materials during deliberate venting are expected to be lower than those resulting from explosions.

    But the consensus in the nuclear industry supports the existing systems. Douglas E. True, the president of ERIN Engineering and Research of Walnut Creek, Calif., said: “In some cases you can argue it might be better to have a rupture disk. In other cases, it would certainly be better to have a manually controlled system.” For example, he said, the disk is backed up by a valve that is normally in the open position. If the disk ruptured and there was no electricity, it might be impossible to close the valve, and the venting would be permanent.

    The Fukushima plant was designed by General Electric, and the venting systems that failed in Japan exists at similar plants designed by G.E. in the United States.

    In a statement, James Klapproth, the nuclear energy chief consulting engineer at GE Hitachi, said that his company believed that the venting system would have operated in an accident within the “design basis” of the plant,” but that the Fukushima disaster was worse than what the plant was designed for. He said that the industry in this country had considered passive systems “at one time.”

    So they knew about the possibility of a worse case scenario being worse then they ever planned on and just ignore the guy until he leaves the industry. Plus they don't let anyone else know about the possibility because they are so sure they are the ultimate experts on nuclear energy. Human arrogance, it is the one thing you can depend on.
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    Gee, you'd better not ever fly in any sort of aircraft. There's a whole underworld of paperwork running between operators and manufacturers covering ongoing safety and maintenance issues. Clearly as it isn't all made public the system is inherently corrupt.

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    I don't need to know this, but they should of let other nuclear agencies know about this, at least those that run that type of reactor design, so they can look at it and see what they think.
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    Quote Originally Posted by WillDAQ View Post
    Gee, you'd better not ever fly in any sort of aircraft. There's a whole underworld of paperwork running between operators and manufacturers covering ongoing safety and maintenance issues. Clearly as it isn't all made public the system is inherently corrupt.
    Well, the magic word here is choice.

    You have a choice to enter or not enter an airplane. No one is forcing you. Same goes for trains (statistically even more dangerous) or cars (bloody killer machines). If you enter one of those or not, is up to you. You can also stay at home, sit on your sofa and watch TV documentaries instead of travelling.

    But short of moving to the south pole or into the amazon jungle, there's no way for you to escape the dangers of nuclear power. We are surrounded by it. And that crawling, agonizingly slow nuclear disaster in Japan, which will get worse and worse in the coming months, is a prime example of a risk the effected people didn't want or agree to but simply cannot escape from.
    Last edited by MacGuffin; May 20th, 2011 at 8:34 PM.
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    Another very interesting article (long but worth the read):

    Japan's Nuclear Cartel

    Atomic Industry Too Close to Government for Comfort

    By Cordula Meyer

    After the oil crisis of the 1970s, Japan embraced atomic power with a vengeance. Since then, the ties between the government and the nuclear industry have become so intertwined that public safety is at threat. Inspections are too lax, and anyone who criticizes the status quo can find themselves out of a job.

    It was a Friday morning, and Yukio Yamaguchi had left his gray cardigan at home and was wearing his good, dark-brown suit instead. He had boarded the Shinkansen, Japan's high-speed train, to travel to Kashiwazaki-Kariwa on the west coast, home to the world's largest nuclear power plant.

    The reserved physicist with horn-rimmed glasses and a gray goatee is an anti-nuclear activist with the Citizens' Nuclear Information Center. He was on his way to attend the meeting of a commission that addresses earthquake safety for power plants. This meeting, together with TEPCO, the operator of the Kashiwazaki plant, was being held to discuss the subject of earthquake and tsunami safety.

    It was the morning of March 11, 2011.

    Shortly after 1 p.m., Yamaguchi sat down in his usual seat, the second from the left in the first row, in a wood-paneled conference room at the Niigata Prefecture administration building. But what good was it to warn people about the dangerous tidal waves? "It was the same as always," says Yamaguchi. "One man against a dozen TEPCO people. And they said that everything was in perfect order." Until 2:46 p.m., that is, when TEPCO's "perfect order" was destroyed.

    The building suddenly started shaking. It was an earthquake, and everyone ran outside. The meeting was interrupted for 15 minutes, but then it was reconvened. A TEPCO spokesman pointed out, once again, how well the Kashiwazaki plant was protected against earthquakes and tsunamis.

    No one in the room suspected that in those very minutes, some 200 kilometers (125 miles) farther to the east, a wave more than 14 meters (46 feet) high was rolling toward the six-meter protective wall at TEPCO's second-largest nuclear complex.

    The meeting in Niigata ended at about 4 p.m. Just as Yamaguchi was checking into a local business hotel (the bullet train had stopped running, because of the earthquake), TEPCO was notifying the government that it had lost control over the reactors at its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

    Making a Farce of Safety Claims

    Time and again, the new realities have revealed the nuclear lobby's safety slogans to be a farce. Apparently the earthquake alone caused the first tubes to crack. The fuel rods melted down into redhot clumps of uranium, eating holes into the floor of the reactor pressure vessel in Unit 1 at an early juncture. And not even the risk of steam explosions has been averted.

    TEPCO's and the Japanese government's reassurances have proven to be meaningless. Tens of thousands of people have had to leave their homes, possibly for good. Even the mountain village of Iitate, almost 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the disaster site, has begun to be evacuated.

    For a full two months, TEPCO management tried to reassure the public and denied all responsibility, even during its ineffectual attempts to get the damaged reactors under control. It wasn't until last Friday that TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu and Vice President Sakae Muto finally announced their resignations -- a decision that was driven mainly by the company's massive quarterly loss of €10.7 billion ($15.1 billion).

    The choice of Toshio Nishizawa, another top executive at TEPCO, to replace Shimizu will hardly change the company's inept crisis management strategy. The crisis team will continue to meet on the second floor of the TEPCO headquarters building in Tokyo, in a large conference room with pieces of paper taped to the inside of the windows. The top executives sit around a semicircular table. There is Muto, head of TEPCO's nuclear division until now, who used to chair the meetings, with Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata sitting to his left. Katsumata usually makes an appearance at 9 a.m. and returns between 6 and 7 p.m. Shimizu was rarely seen at the meetings recently, says another executive.

    There are several smaller, round tables scattered around the conference table. Teams of outside experts, including specialists from the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission and France's Areva nuclear power company, as well as Japanese scientists, sit at these tables. Everyone stares at a large video screen showing dedicated lines to all of TEPCO's power plants, including Kashiwazaki.

    At the moment, however, they are usually looking at the bottom left corner of the screen, where there is an image of Masao Yoshida, 56, the head of the plant, who is reporting from the earthquake-proof room at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. "Yoshida often has trouble getting his message across," says one of the meeting participants. "The people at the site have to make an effort to convey how serious the situation really is."

    Too Big to Fail

    It isn't even entirely clear who is actually responsible for crisis management. A few weeks ago, when SPIEGEL asked a TEPCO spokesman who was running the crisis team, he replied: "Prime Minister (Naoto) Kan." When a member of the Japanese parliament asked the government the same question, it replied: "Primarily TEPCO." Meanwhile, the country's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) announced: "We all support TEPCO in a unified manner in its management of the crisis." One of the government's contributions to this support is financial -- Tokyo is spending the astronomical sum of €43 billion to protect TEPCO from ruin. The axiom "too big to fail," which guaranteed the survival of the major European and American banks during the financial crisis, is also proving to be applicable to Japan's largest electric utility.

    TEPCO, the world's fourth-largest power company, employs more than 52,000 people and most recently posted annual revenues of about €35 billion. Before World War II, the government nationalized all electric utilities and merged them into regional monopolies. The resulting 10 companies are now private, but they have retained their regional dominance.

    The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has consistently treated the electric utilities as tools with which to execute its industrial policy. In return, the utilities enjoy guaranteed profits. Some 45 million people in the Tokyo region get their electricity from TEPCO. The company is ubiquitous. It pays for research and sponsors many news programs. It even built a giant electricity museum in the center of Tokyo's popular Shibuya shopping district.

    The Fukushima disaster destroyed much more than a power plant. It has destabilized the entire system on which the Japanese nuclear industry is based.

    In Japan, the term "The Atomic Village" refers to an isolated elite that has formed around the country's nuclear complex. Its residents include TEPCO's nuclear divisions and the corresponding departments at the METI. Scientists, politicians and journalists are also members of this exclusive nuclear club.

    Activist Yamaguchi has repeatedly run up against the secure walls surrounding this Atomic Village. "They all feel connected," he says. "They all studied at the top university in Tokyo, and after that they worked here at TEPCO or at the agency that's supposed to regulate TEPCO."

    A Threat to Japan's Democracy


    Both the nuclear industry and its government regulators are also closely intertwined with the political sphere. TEPCO's management is among the key campaign donors to the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Meanwhile, the union that represents workers in the electricity industry supports Prime Minister Kan's Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). So far neither of the two parties has taken a position critical of the nuclear industry.

    It's as if Austrian writer Robert Jungk's horrific vision of the "nuclear state" had become reality. In his book "The Nuclear State," once required reading for Germany's protest generation, Jungk describes how a high-risk technology can erode a democracy, even without a nuclear disaster. Many of the protesters who faced water cannons, batons and concertina wire during demonstrations in the 1970s and 1980s at German sites like the Brokdorf nuclear power plant near Hamburg, already felt as if they were living in the dreaded surveillance state.

    Germany was ultimately spared Jungk's vision, but in Japan it has proven to be prophetic. In a consensus-based society, the nuclear industry, electric utilities, political parties and scientists have created a sacrosanct refuge for themselves that has become a threat to Japan's democracy.

    It is clear that wheeling and dealing in the Atomic Village played a role in the Fukushima disaster. According to TEPCO's calculations, the maximum possible height of a tsunami in Fukushima was 5.7 meters. The company acted on the authority of a committee made up of members of Japan's engineering society. But a majority of the commission's 35 members had once worked for electric utilities or think tanks funded by the utilities.

    'The Japanese Public Is Partly Responsible'

    Even many media organizations, as recipients of generous payments for the electricity industry, are part of the cartel. "The Japanese public is partly responsible for the disaster in Fukushima," says activist Yukio Yamaguchi. Nature triggered the catastrophe, but Japan itself created the conditions that allowed it to happen, he says.

    Ironically, hardly any country on earth is more poorly suited for high-risk nuclear technology than earthquake-plagued Japan. A folk legend describes the islands as being perched on the back of a giant fish in the ocean, a fish that is constantly trembling and twitching -- not a good basis for operating the world's third-largest collection of nuclear reactors. Only the United States and France have more nuclear plants.

    Nevertheless, until disaster struck Japan continued to forge ambitious expansion plans. To reach its goal of producing half of all the electricity it consumes with nuclear energy by 2030, the country had planned to build a double-digit number of new reactors.

    The oil shock of the 1970s came as a wakeup call for Japan, a rising industrial nation at the time. It prompted the government to define the development of a strong nuclear industry as a national goal. Since then, Japanese politicians have inextricably linked the country's rise to prominence and prosperity with nuclear energy.

    Buoyed by the prospect of being largely independent of imports of fuel for energy production, Japanese politicians even decided to establish a plutonium industry. Fast breeder reactors, which produce more fuel than they consume, seemed too tempting to pass up.

    'Brainwashed'

    While most of the world's nuclear nations were abandoning this risky and expensive option (Germany turned its fast breeder reactor in Kalkar near the Dutch border into the most expensive amusement park of all time), Japan inaugurated its Monju breeder reactor and, in 1993, laid the foundation for a reprocessing plant in Rokkasho on the northern tip of the main island, Honshu. At an estimated cost to date of more than €14 billion, the facility is one of the most expensive industrial plants in the world, and yet it has never been in full-fledged operation.

    "Our country was literally brainwashed," says Taro Kono, a member of the lower house of the Japanese Diet for the conservative LDP. "Atomic energy is a cult in Japan."

    Kono, 48, comes from one of Japan's major political dynasties. He has been a member of the parliament for almost 15 years and is notorious for his independent views. He is one of the few members of his parliamentary group to have dared to question Japan's nuclear policy. As a member of parliament who has one of the best election results in Japan, Kono feels even more emboldened to express his opinion. "This is the only reason I can afford to criticize the nuclear industry in the first place," he says with a smile.

    "Now TEPCO is saying that the tsunami was much bigger than expected," says Kono. "But what were they expecting?" This, he says, was the conclusion reached by a commission dominated by the power companies, which included almost no earthquake or tsunami experts. "It determined how big the tsunami should be," Kono says. "That's why the electric utilities are the ones who are mainly responsible. It's as simple as that." But for Kono, finding allies is difficult in a country where any criticism of the nuclear industry can end the careers of scientists, journalists and politicians.

    Scientists Keep Quiet

    TEPCO's influence even extends into scientific laboratories. Many scientists, especially at the University of Tokyo, are partial to TEPCO. The company contributes millions to the university and supports many associations, think tanks and commissions. This form of public relations has been useful to the company until now.

    Not a single scientist or engineer at the University of Tokyo has ever been known to have spoken critically about TEPCO, even after the accident in Fukushima. "If you are a critic of nuclear power, you are not promoted, you don't even become a professor, and you are certainly not appointed to key commissions," says Kono.

    At times, doubts are indeed voiced about the system of crony commissions. Five years ago, for example, seismologist Katsuhiko Ishibashi resigned from the committee that had been tasked with revising the safety regulations for Japanese nuclear power plants. Of the 19 committee members, 11 were also members of committees within the Japanese electricity lobby. Ishibashi criticized the decision-making process on the committee for being "unscientific." "If we do not fundamentally improve our technical standards for nuclear power plants, Japan could experience a nuclear catastrophe after an earthquake," he warned at the time.

    But it is difficult to get through to the Japanese public with such warnings, given the millions upon millions of euros TEPCO spends on media and public relations each year. Its image cultivation campaign even includes the sponsorship of news programs, including Tokyo station TBS's "News 23," Fuji's "Mezamashi TV" and TV Asahi's "Hodo Station." In TEPCO's world, everyone gets a piece of a very large nuclear pie.

    Keeping the Media Sweet


    The company also has a habit of placating journalists with luxury trips. For example, on the day the tsunami inundated the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, TEPCO Chairman Katsumata was keeping journalists company in a nice new hotel in China -- on an "educational trip."

    "We have built the structure in such a way that everyone has an interest in supporting nuclear power," says Kono. Stricter inspectors, critical reporters and obstreperous citizens would only get in the way.

    There has been no lack of alarm signals, but they have never produced any consequences. The biggest scandal to date came to light through a disgruntled employee. In 1989, Kei Sugaoka, a US engineer with Japanese roots, inspected Reactor 1 at the now-stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant. He worked for General Electric (GE), the plant's manufacturer.

    Sugaoka was startled to find cracks in the steam dryer, "pretty sizeable ones," as he recalls today. It later occurred to him that the device had been installed incorrectly -- by a 180-degree rotation. He notified his superiors. Then his team waited a few days for further instructions, while receiving their full pay.

    Safety Revelations

    When the men were called back to the power plant, their higher-ups had apparently agreed on the next steps. Sugaoka says that his supervisor at GE told him to edit the inspection video and remove the sections in which the cracks were visible. "And that was what my team did," says the engineer, "while two men from TEPCO looked on."

    Nevertheless, he felt uneasy about the whole thing. After returning home, he wrote down what had happened and kept the documents. After being fired from GE in 1998, Sugaoka was determined to bring the affair to light. On June 28, 2000, he wrote a letter to Japan's nuclear safety agency NISA, describing what had happened. He wrote three or four similar letters after that.

    Sugaoka's revelations shook the country. It soon became clear that TEPCO had systematically falsified safety reports. The company's president and four other senior executives had to resign over the affair, and the government temporarily shut down 17 reactors.

    About that time, it was also revealed that several Japanese TEPCO employees had reported safety concerns to the regulatory agency. It, in turn, promptly disclosed the whistleblowers' identities to TEPCO, as a NISA spokesman confirmed.

    Gentleman Whistleblower

    The scandal had no long-term consequences in Japan. In Fukushima, however, it brought Eisaku Sato into the arena. Sato, the former governor of Fukushima Prefecture, is a distinguished, silver-haired gentleman. He loves antiques and golf, and he opposes nuclear energy.

    After discovering how carelessly NISA had treated the complaints from inside the Atomic Village, he decided to get involved. From 2002 to 2006, 21 insiders contacted Sato directly, and members of his staff met secretly with the whistleblowers. After recording and documenting the complaints, they forwarded them to NISA.

    Whenever nothing happened for a period of time after the complaints had been submitted, Sato's staff members made more inquiries. "No one was keeping tabs on TEPCO," says Sato, who is wearing dark-blue sports jacket with a pocket square. "Fukushima Prefecture took on the job that NISA really ought to be doing. The main problem wasn't TEPCO at all, but NISA. They simply didn't pass on the complaints."

    The ministries, regulatory agencies and power companies are so closely intertwined that conflicts of interest are virtually built into the system. One of the objectives of the powerful industry ministry, METI, is to promote the nuclear industry. Another goal is to export Japanese nuclear technology to emerging economies. The problem, however, is that NISA, the agency that is supposed to monitor the nuclear industry, comes under the authority of the nuclear-friendly METI.

    The Power of Amakudari


    Not surprisingly, the controls are lax, reports nuclear engineer Tetsunari Iida. He once designed the Japanese version of the CASTOR containers that are used to transport highly radioactive nuclear waste in Europe. To this day, he remembers how shocked he was as a novice in the industry. "I was just a 20-year-old boy, but what I did was simply rubber-stamped," says Iida.

    Even 20 years ago, Iida experienced how nuclear power plant workers would signal to each other when an inspector was approaching. A worker would quickly wipe off a leaking heat exchanger to make it look perfectly in order, and would then disappear. The inspector noticed what was going on but ignored it. "Our inspections are a complete sham," says Iida.

    The close-knit relationship between the industry and regulators is so legendary that it even has a name: "amakudari," or "descended from the sky," which refers to the practice of government officials, after serving out their terms at a ministry, directly switching to lucrative positions with the electricity giants.

    One of the vice-president positions at TEPCO has been reserved for an amakudari official for decades. A man named Takeo Ishihara was once a deputy state secretary, in a position titled "coordinator of nuclear policy." After TEPCO hired him in 1962, he became a managing director and then a vice-president.

    In 1980, a state secretary at the Energy Ministry switched to TEPCO, where he performed the same duties. Other senior officials followed in 1990 and 1999. In April, a member of parliament with the Communist Party asked the government whether these industry jobs were "reserved slots." A spokesman said: "You could call it that."

    Arrogance Meets Incompetence

    In terms of the hands-on work at the plants, most workers are temporary workers and day laborers working for subcontractors and sub-subcontractors. But even the highly qualified specialists are often not employed by TEPCO, but by manufacturers like Hitachi and Toshiba, or even directly by General Electric in the United States.

    These experts know all too well how little the TEPCO managers know about their own reactors. "The people at TEPCO," says Tsuneyasu Satoh, who worked as a subcontractor in Fukushima for many years, "are bureaucrats who stop by once in a while to tell us what to do."

    TEPCO's engineers display a combination of arrogance and incompetence. When Sugaoka went public with the scandal over falsified safety reports, the company conducted an internal analysis and even admitted to significant deficiencies. According to the analysis, TEPCO engineers were "overly self-confident with regard to their nuclear expertise." For this reason, the analysis continued, they did not report problems to the government, "as long as they believed that safety was assured."

    However, neither TEPCO nor NISA drew any conclusions from these insights. Even the scandal did nothing to stop the operating license for the extremely old Reactor 1 at Fukushima Daiichi being extended for another 10 years. Even worse, the regular intervals at which power plants are inspected can now be extended from 13 to 16 months.

    "That's the consequence of the entire scandal for TEPCO," Aileen Mioko Smith, an anti-nuclear activist with the nongovernmental organization Green Action Japan, says derisively, "new standards and ultimately fewer inspections."

    'No Commento'

    When the TEPCO spokesman is asked whether the company has ever implemented a proposal by the anti-nuclear activists, he says: "I don't understand the question."

    Even after the disaster, the company still tried to throw sand in the eyes of journalists. Reporters with the television stations and major newspapers have been camped out on the ground floor of the TEPCO headquarters building for the last 10 weeks. In press conferences, they are usually presented with a jumble of supposedly precise raw data. But what are reporters supposed to do with hundreds of pieces of data without any context at all, particularly as they often turn out to be incorrect soon afterwards?

    TEPCO officials like to talk about the data but prefer to avoid the subject of responsibility. Whether it's amakudari, political contributions or funding for scientific research, a TEPCO spokesman has a similar response to questions on all of these issues: "No commento."

    Fired After Reporting on Fukushima

    Takashi Uesugi, a television journalist, is one of those reporting on how sensitively the electricity giant reacts when unflattering information manages to get out. He is a popular television and radio host in Japan, and his programs are both political and entertaining. Uesugi is normally an affable 43-year-old who likes to play golf. Until the Fukushima accident, he had little to do with nuclear power.

    But he has always taken issue with his counterparts at the major newspapers, who he sees as little more than the PR agents of the ministers they report about. After the disaster in Fukushima, Uesugi also camped out in the TEPCO lobby, because he wanted to know what was happening in the reactor.

    On March 15, at 1 p.m., Uesugi was conducting a live broadcast on the Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS). He said that radioactivity was apparently escaping from Reactor 3 and that this was being reported abroad. "It was an obvious thing to report," he says. After the broadcast, however, his boss came to him and told him he was fired, says Uesugi. He hasn't worked for TBS since then. A spokesman for the TBS programming department says that the station had already decided earlier to sever its working relationship with Uesugi, and that there was no pressure from TEPCO.

    Uesugi doesn't believe these claims, particularly as he also experienced problems soon afterwards on another TV program. The electric utility association ended its sponsorship of "Asahi Newstar" after Uesugi had invited a critic of nuclear power to appear as a guest on his program. The station claims that it had already planned to end the electric utility sponsorship. A TEPCO spokesman characterizes as "inconceivable" the notion that TEPCO would try to pressure a journalist like Uesugi.

    Intimidated

    Meanwhile, the Japanese government has begun asking Internet providers to remove "false reports" about Fukushima from the web, arguing that the population should not be troubled unnecessarily. "This is worse than in Egypt and China," says Uesugi. According to the government request, all reports that "harm the public order and morale" should be removed.

    Nuclear critic Robert Jungk devoted an entire chapter to the industry's treatment of its adversaries. The chapter is titled: "The Intimidated."

    In Japan, the insiders who talked about the abuses at TEPCO were intimidated, as were journalists who reported on these abuses, like Takashi Uesugi.

    There are some indications that Eisaku Sato, the distinguished former governor of Fukushima Prefecture, was also a victim of intimidation. Sato attempted to oppose the power of the atom. He had aligned himself with the governors of other prefectures with nuclear plants, and he tried to establish an axis critical of nuclear power.

    Sato, a relatively minor local politician, invited experts from all over the world to formulate a new Japanese energy policy. He was perhaps the most influential Japanese critic of the nuclear industry -- until his political career ended abruptly in 2006, when he was arrested on charges of corruption. He and his brother were accused of having collected an inflated price for a piece of property from a construction company that had worked for the prefecture.

    'Same People as Always'


    A court found Sato guilty, and although an appeals court in Tokyo later reduced the sentence, it did not overturn the guilty verdict. He has now taken his case to the Japanese Supreme Court, where he hopes to be declared innocent.

    A former Tokyo prosecutor says that Sato's brother did not make any profit at all with the sale of the property. Besides, the public prosecutor assigned to the case at the time has since been sentenced to 18 months in prison for planting false evidence on a high-ranking government official he had investigated in another case.

    But who, if not critics like Sato, can hold people responsible for the disaster? At least the statement made by Prime Minister Kan last Wednesday offers a hopeful outlook. He announced a new plan to decartelize the regulatory agencies, break up the regional monopolies of the Japanese electric utilities and rethink the country's energy policy "from the bottom up."

    Aileen Mioko Smith, the activist with Green Action Japan, doesn't have much faith in such promises. She already dreads what she expects will be Japan's usual handling of such disasters. "A commission will be formed to examine the accident, and it will consist of exactly the same people as always."

    Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

    Source: http://www.spiegel.de/international/...764907,00.html





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    Japan pensioners volunteer to tackle nuclear crisis


    Yasuteru Yamada said people from all walks of life were welcome to join the group

    A group of more than 200 Japanese pensioners are volunteering to tackle the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima power station.

    The Skilled Veterans Corps, as they call themselves, is made up of retired engineers and other professionals, all over the age of 60.

    They say they should be facing the dangers of radiation, not the young.

    It was while watching the television news that Yasuteru Yamada decided it was time for his generation to stand up.

    No longer could he be just an observer of the struggle to stabilise the Fukushima nuclear plant.

    The retired engineer is reporting back for duty at the age of 72, and he is organising a team of pensioners to go with him.

    For weeks now Mr Yamada has been getting back in touch with old friends, sending out e-mails and even messages on Twitter.

    Volunteering to take the place of younger workers at the power station is not brave, Mr Yamada says, but logical.

    "I am 72 and on average I probably have 13 to 15 years left to live," he says.

    "Even if I were exposed to radiation, cancer could take 20 or 30 years or longer to develop. Therefore us older ones have less chance of getting cancer."

    Mr Yamada is lobbying the government hard for his volunteers to be allowed into the power station. The government has expressed gratitude for the offer but is cautious.

    Certainly a couple of MPs are supporting Mr Yamada.

    "At this moment I can say that I am talking with many key government and Tepco people. But I am sorry I can't say any more at this moment. It is on the way but it is a very, very sensitive issue politically," he said.

    Certainly it is likely more workers will be needed.

    The plant is still spewing radiation, nearly three months after an earthquake and tsunami knocked out its cooling systems, triggering explosions.

    Its operator, Tepco, has now confirmed three of the reactors probably suffered meltdowns.

    The plan is to bring the plant to a cold shutdown by January, although some experts believe that is over optimistic.

    To cope with the disaster Japan has raised the radiation exposure limit for emergency workers from 100 millisieverts to 250 millisieverts.

    But Tepco announced this week two workers at Fukushima might have already been exposed to more.

    Kamikaze?

    Many of Mr Yamada's veterans are retired engineers like him.

    Others are former power station workers, experts in factory design - and even a singer and two cooks - Mr Yamada says they will be useful to keep his team amused and fed.

    Michio Ito used to be a primary school teacher but is spending his retirement helping out in a cafe that offers work experience to people with learning difficulties.

    He is keen to swap his apron for a radiation suit.

    "I don't think I'm particularly special," he says. "Most Japanese have this feeling in their heart. The question is whether you step forward, or you stay behind and watch.

    "To take that step you need a lot of guts, but I hope it will be a great experience. Most Japanese want to help out any way they can."

    Mr Yamada has already tried on his old overalls for size.

    He says he is as fit as ever - with a lifetime of experience to bring to the task.

    And he laughs off suggestions his proposed team is comparable to the kamikaze pilots who flew suicide missions in World War II.

    "We are not kamikaze. The kamikaze were something strange, no risk management there. They were going to die. But we are going to come back. We have to work but never die."
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    In Nuclear Crisis, Crippling Mistrust

    TOKYO — On the evening of March 12, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant’s oldest reactor had suffered a hydrogen explosion and risked a complete meltdown. Prime Minister Naoto Kan asked aides to weigh the risks of injecting seawater into the reactor to cool it down.

    At this crucial moment, it became clear that a prime minister who had built his career on suspicion of the collusive ties between Japan’s industry and bureaucracy was acting nearly in the dark. He had received a confusing risk analysis from the chief nuclear regulator, a fervently pro-nuclear academic whom aides said Mr. Kan did not trust. He was also wary of the company that operated the plant, given its history of trying to cover up troubles.

    Mr. Kan did not know that the plant manager had already begun using seawater. Based on a guess of the mood at the prime minister’s office, the company ordered the plant manager to stop.

    But the manager did something unthinkable in corporate Japan: he disobeyed the order and secretly continued using seawater, a decision that experts say almost certainly prevented a more serious meltdown and has made him an unlikely hero.

    The convoluted drama has exposed the underlying rifts behind Japan’s handling of the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, which eventually resulted in explosions at four of the plant’s six reactors. Mutually suspicious relations between the prime minister’s aides, government bureaucrats and company officials obstructed smooth decision-making.

    At the drama’s heart was an outsider prime minister who saw the need for quick action but whose well-founded mistrust of a system of alliances between powerful plant operators, compliant bureaucrats and sympathetic politicians deprived him of resources he could have used to make better-informed decisions.

    A onetime grass-roots activist, Mr. Kan struggled to manage the nuclear crisis because he felt he could not rely on the very mechanisms established by his predecessors to respond to such a crisis.

    Instead, he turned at the beginning only to a handful of close, overwhelmed advisers who knew little about nuclear plants and who barely exchanged information with the plant’s operator and nuclear regulators. Struggling to manage a humanitarian disaster caused by the tsunami, Mr. Kan improvised his government’s response to the worsening nuclear crisis, seeming to vacillate between personally intervening at the plant and leaving it to the operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, known as Tepco.

    “There were delays. First of all, we weren’t getting accurate information from Tepco,” said Kenichi Matsumoto, an adviser to Mr. Kan. But Mr. Matsumoto added that the prime minister’s distrust of Tepco and bureaucrats “interfered” with the overall response.

    The early disarray alarmed the United States government enough that it increasingly urged the Japanese to take more decisive action, and to be more forthcoming in sharing information. Making matters worse was Mr. Kan’s initial reluctance to accept the help of the United States, which offered pump trucks, unmanned drones and the advice of American nuclear crisis experts.

    “We found ourselves in a downward spiral, which hurt relations with the United States,” said Manabu Terada, a lawmaker who served as an aide to Mr. Kan at that time. “We lost credibility with America, and Tepco lost credibility with us.”

    Lack of Experience

    Even some supporters say that Mr. Kan could have moved faster and more decisively if he had used Japan’s existing crisis management system.

    The system was created in 1986 and subsequently strengthened by Japanese leaders who had sought more power for the prime minister. Modeled on crisis management in the White House — even down to the Situation Room under the prime minister’s office — the system brought together bureaucrats from various ministries under the direct command of the prime minister, said Atsuyuki Sassa, the head of the Cabinet Security Affairs Office in the late 1980s.

    Critics and supporters alike said Mr. Kan’s decision to bypass this system, choosing instead to rely on a small circle of trusted advisers with little experience in handling a crisis of this scale, blocked him from grasping the severity of the disaster sooner. Sometimes those advisers did not even know all the resources available to them.

    This includes the existence of a nationwide system of radiation detectors known as the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information, or Speedi. Mr. Terada and other advisers said they did not learn of the system’s existence until March 16, five days into the crisis.

    If they had known earlier, they would have seen Speedi’s early projections that radiation from the Fukushima plant would be blown northwest, said one critic, Hiroshi Kawauchi, a lawmaker in Mr. Kan’s own party. Mr. Kawauchi said that many of the residents around the plant who evacuated went north, on the assumption that winds blew south during winter in that area. That took them directly into the radioactive plume, he said — exposing them to the very radiation that they were fleeing.

    Mr. Kawauchi said that when he asked officials at the Ministry of Education, which administers Speedi, why they did not make the information available to the prime minister in those first crucial days, they replied that the prime minister’s office had not asked them for it.

    “It’s more of an emotional thing,” Mr. Matsumoto said of Mr. Kan. “He never trusts bureaucrats.”

    That is a legacy from Mr. Kan’s stint as health minister in the mid-1990s, when he became wildly popular after exposing his own ministry’s use of blood tainted with H.I.V., which led to hundreds of hemophiliacs dying of AIDS. Mr. Kan found that bureaucrats and pharmaceutical company officials had long known of the tainted blood.

    To Mr. Kan, the nuclear establishment — with politically connected utilities abetted by bureaucrats in the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and compliant academics — represented the worst example of this kind of collusion, Mr. Matsumoto said.

    Ignoring Orders

    The seawater example is telling.

    In testimony in Parliament in late May, Mr. Kan said that he asked advisers to weigh the risks that the seawater injection could cause “recriticality,” a phenomenon in which nuclear fission resumes in melted nuclear fuel lying on the floor of a storage pool or reactor core. Mr. Kan’s aides said they grew worried after Haruki Madarame, the chairman of the Nuclear Safety Commission, a nuclear regulator in the prime minister’s office, warned that the chances of this happening were “not zero.”

    On March 12, about 28 hours after the tsunami struck, Tepco executives had ordered workers to start injecting seawater into Reactor No. 1. But 21 minutes later, they ordered the plant’s manager, Masao Yoshida, to suspend the operation. They were relying on an account by the Tepco liaison to the prime minister, who reported back that he seemed to be against it.

    “Well, he said that was the atmosphere or the mood,” Sakae Muto, Tepco’s executive vice president, explained at a news conference.

    Mr. Sassa, the former head of the Cabinet Security Affairs Office, said: “Mood? Is this a joke? Making decisions based on mood?” But Mr. Yoshida chose to ignore the order. The injections were the only way left to cool the reactor, and halting them would mean possibly causing an even more severe meltdown and release of radiation, experts said.

    Mr. Yoshida had the authority as the plant manager to make the decision, said Junichi Matsumoto, a senior official at Tepco. And indeed, guidelines from the International Atomic Energy Agency specify that technical decisions should be left to plant managers because a timely response is critical, said Sung Key-yong, a nuclear accident expert who participated in the agency’s recent fact-finding mission to Japan
    .

    After revealing in May that he had ignored the order, Mr. Yoshida explained himself to a television reporter by saying that “suspending the seawater could have meant death” for those at the plant.

    Mr. Yoshida, 56, according to friends, is a square-jawed, hard-drinking and sometimes rough-talking man who is a straight shooter. A practitioner of kendo in his youth, he also quotes from Raymond Chandler and enjoys cooking Italian food.

    “In class, if a teacher didn’t explain something properly, he’d push for an explanation that satisfied him,” said Masanori Baba, a childhood friend.

    His candor impressed Mr. Kan, who met him the day after the tsunami when he took a trip on a military helicopter to the plant. They shared a willingness to buck the system, as Mr. Kan had when he uncovered the tainted blood scandal. And, in a country where alumni ties are extremely important, they found they had attended the same college, the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

    “One or two days later, Mr. Kan said Mr. Yoshida was the only one he could trust inside Tepco,” Mr. Matsumoto, the adviser to Mr. Kan, said.

    Last week, Tepco gave Mr. Yoshida its lightest punishment of a verbal reprimand for defying the order.

    Distrust and Distraction

    Mr. Kan’s critics and supporters alike say his suspicions of Tepco were well-founded. In the early days after the March 11 disaster, Tepco shared only limited information with the prime minister’s office, trying instead to play down the risks at the plant, they said.

    Tepco declined to make senior executives available for this article. Mr. Matsumoto, the Tepco senior official, said at a news conference that the company had provided information as best as it could. He declined to comment on Mr. Kan’s reported lack of trust of Tepco.

    Yet the Kan government essentially left the handling of the nuclear crisis in the crucial first three days to Tepco, focusing instead on relief efforts for the hundreds of thousands left homeless, Mr. Terada and other aides said. Then on March 14, the gravity of the plant’s situation was revealed by a second explosion, this time at Reactor No. 3, and a startling request that night from Tepco’s president, Masataka Shimizu: that Tepco be allowed to withdraw its employees from the plant because it had become too dangerous to remain.

    When he heard this, Mr. Kan flew into a rage, said aides and advisers who were present. Abandoning the plant would mean losing control of the four stricken reactors; the next day, explosions occurred at the two remaining active reactors, No. 2 and No. 4.

    “This is not a joke,” the prime minister yelled, according to the aides.

    They said Mr. Kan convened an emergency meeting early on March 15, asking advisers what more could be done to save the reactors. Then he gave Tepco barely two hours’ warning that he planned to visit the company.

    At 5:30 a.m., Mr. Kan marched into Tepco headquarters and stationed one of his most trusted aides, Goshi Hosono, there to keep tabs on the company.

    Mr. Kan gave a five-minute impromptu pep talk, said his aide, Mr. Terada.

    “Withdrawing from the plant is out of the question,” Mr. Kan told them.


    Advisers said the placement of Mr. Hosono in Tepco was a turning point, helping the prime minister to take direct control of damage-control efforts at the plant. “For the first time, we knew what Tepco was debating, and what they knew,” said one adviser, who asked not to be identified.

    However, even Mr. Kan’s supporters acknowledge that the move came too late.

    “We should have moved faster,” said Masanori Aritomi, a nuclear engineer at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and an adviser to Mr. Kan. Mr. Aritomi said that even with Mr. Hosono stationed inside Tepco, the company still did not disclose crucial information until mid-May, including final confirmation that three of the plant’s four active reactors had melted down.

    Strains With an Ally

    The poor flow of information and ad hoc decision-making also strained Japan’s relationship with the United States, which has about 50,000 military personnel stationed in Japan.

    While Japan was quick to accept the American military’s offers to help victims of the tsunami, the perception in Washington in the early days, that it was being rebuffed and misled in the unfolding nuclear disaster, had created “a crisis in the United States-Japan alliance,” said Akihisa Nagashima, a former vice minister of defense.

    Within 48 hours of the earthquake, officials from the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission arrived in Tokyo, but they were unable to get information or even arrange meetings with Japanese counterparts. Meanwhile, Washington became convinced that Tokyo was understating the damage at the plant, based on readings that the Americans were getting around the plant from aircraft and satellites normally used to monitor North Korean nuclear tests, said one American official, who asked not to be named.

    According to this official, the Obama administration made a decision “to lean on the Kan government” to share more information. On March 16, American officials, including the ambassador to Japan, John V. Roos, informed their Japanese counterparts that the United States would advise its citizens to evacuate an area 50 miles around the plant — much larger than the 18-mile voluntary evacuation zone then established by Japan.

    The Americans also began voluntary evacuations of nonessential personnel at their bases, and hinted at more drastic steps, even pulling out some essential military personnel, if Tokyo did not share more information, said this American official and Japanese officials, including Mr. Terada.

    To show Washington and an increasingly anxious Japanese public that utmost efforts were being made, Mr. Kan deployed military helicopters to drop water into the reactors, Mr. Terada and other Japanese advisers said, adding they knew this would have only a limited effect on cooling them. On March 17, on live television, the helicopters dropped water from the air, though strong winds clearly blew much of the water off course.

    Still, Mr. Terada said that Mr. Kan personally called President Obama to tell him the operation was a success. Later that day in Washington, Mr. Obama paid a visit to the Japanese Embassy to sign a book of condolences — a gesture seen in the prime minister’s office as a nod of approval by the American president.

    Mr. Nagashima said the American demands to be better informed ultimately improved Japan’s own response. On March 20, he brought a proposal to Mr. Kan for a daily meeting between American and Japanese officials to coordinate information and discuss responses to the nuclear accident.

    The first such meeting was held a day later at the prime minister’s office. Mr. Nagashima said the meetings lasted an hour and a half, and usually involved about 50 people, including officials from the American Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the United States Embassy and the military, as well as a far larger Japanese group made of political leaders, people from five ministries, from nuclear agencies and from Tepco. The meeting was led by Mr. Hosono, who by then had become the prime minister’s point man on the nuclear response.

    Mr. Nagashima said that even more important was what happened before the Americans arrived: the Japanese met an hour beforehand to discuss developments and to work out what they were going to tell the Americans. Mr. Nagashima said the meeting brought together the various ministries and Tepco, with politicians setting the agenda, for the first time since the crisis began.

    “The Japanese side needed to gather everybody in the same room,” Mr. Nagashima said. “U.S. irritation became a chance for Japan to improve its disaster management.”
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    Report: Fukushima Plant Site Radiation Levels 'Fatal to Humans'


    Weeks ago, officials at Japan's radiation-seeping Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant had assured the public that the situation had "stabilized." On Tuesday, however, TEPCO informed news outlets that officials have "detected the highest radiation levels at the facility since the initial earthquake and tsunami five months ago," relayed CNN. In the handout image pictured above taken with a gamma ray camera, the red dots show the areas on a ventilation stack between the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors "where radiation exceeding 10 sieverts (10,000 millisieverts) per hour was found," according to the Reuters image description. A 60-minute dose of that level of radiation could be fatal, says CNN. Al Jazeera's Aela Callan likewise said the levels were "fatal to humans."

    The troubling discovery hasn't swayed officials of their timetable to have a shutdown set for January. And because the high radiation levels were found away from the main working sites, it won't affect the efforts to continue to cool the reactors, reported Bloomberg. But the radiation finding is especially troubling, as Al Jazeera's Callan put it, because "It is now looking more likely that this area has been this radioactive since the earthquake and tsunami but no one realised until now."

    Follow the link to see the hotspots.
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    Whenever someone says in context with the Fukushima disaster, that things are "under control" or "have stabilized", that person is either blatantly lying or astonishingly ignorant.

    This won't be under control for decades. During that time this will always have to be watched, controlled, contained and shielded from the population. I'm quite eager to see, how they will manage to build a concrete sarcophagus, that can withstand a heavy earthquake. Concrete isn't exactly know for its flexibility and the whole construction has to be (and remain) airtight.
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    has a fetish for terrible cars rickhamilton620's Avatar
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    All of that stuff is so fucked up, yet the corruption is unsurprising (remember the Mitsubishi car scandal of the early 2000's?)...interestingly enough, a friend of mine was studying in Japan...The control over what was aired on the news was so strongly warped that I sorta honestly think he believed the reports that "everything's fine" etc. when really every other news outlet was saying things are hellishly bad.
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  11. #111
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    Quote Originally Posted by MacGuffin View Post
    Whenever someone says in context with the Fukushima disaster, that things are "under control" or "have stabilized", that person is either blatantly lying or astonishingly ignorant.

    This won't be under control for decades. During that time this will always have to be watched, controlled, contained and shielded from the population. I'm quite eager to see, how they will manage to build a concrete sarcophagus, that can withstand a heavy earthquake. Concrete isn't exactly know for its flexibility and the whole construction has to be (and remain) airtight.
    There are modern concrete mixes that flex very well. These mixes are used all over the Pacific Rim in construction of buildings, dams, bridges, etc. Anywhere flexibility and strength are needed.
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    Doesn't some areas of Japan have naturally high levels of radiation because of the Geology? (I can't read that nytimes article because it is behind a paywall)

    I know that in some areas of the North-East of Scotland its possible to get doses of radiation similar to those working in the UK nuclear industry because of Granite.

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    It's been one year next weekend. I found this very touching special:

    http://www.spiegel.de/flash/0,,28219,00.html

    Time for some memorizing and to realize, that it still is not over.
    Last edited by MacGuffin; March 7th, 2012 at 10:34 AM.
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    PBS just ran a couple of shows on the disasters there.
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    Quote Originally Posted by GRtak View Post
    PBS just ran a couple of shows on the disasters there.
    The Frontline documentary was very good.
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    http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia-p...324337410.html


    Japan nuclear plant 'detects' signs of leak
    Operator of plant damaged by 2011 tsunami says 120 tonnes of contaminated water may have breached inner linings.
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