The nuclear industry is a global affair, especially when something goes wrong, requiring transparency to ensure the safety of children and families around the world. History has shown that significant releases of radiation that effect the environment and population can be released long before any hope of containment or control can be expected. Nuclear disasters can not only threaten the health of first responders, but also cripple critical systems that allow complex situations to be analyzed and reported effectively.
While the amount of time it takes before officials act can be measured in days and weeks, the amount of time before radiation can spread and effect those outside of the nation’s borders can be a matter of minutes or hours. After the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi, it was noted that radioactivity from the damaged station could reach the opposite end of the Pacific Ocean within a matter of days.
The immeasurable consequences of nuclear disasters have always prevented the immediate reporting or full disclosure of risk to a nation or the world after a significant release. While many eyes watch the unfolding events in Japan, more critical attention is being paid to aged nuclear power plants in operation around the world.
Who has to prove nuclear reactors are safe?
During this past week, reports followed six international nuclear incidents in France, Britain, the United States and the on-going Japanese disaster. Scandals were also exposed in Britain and Japan as further evidence of treachery and bribery rocked the headlines. Many argue that the increasing recent revelations of deceit and countless other actions leading to the irreparable harm to people and the environment are proving the promotion of self-interest and preservation over national and global health and safety.
The amassing of power and prevalence pocketed politicians is an example of how the focus has been to keep things status quo at any cost. The industry has spent its entire existence justifying its necessity and safety to the world. Despite many nuclear disasters that have effected the population, the repeated reaction is to push forward, despite the ever-present ethical and safety questions that have done little to slow its expansion to date.
In an industry where corruption, collusion, and outright criminal actions are committed each year, the ability to deny responsibility and culpability, have allowed the nuclear industry to stand on a soapbox preaching its safe, responsible, and most debatable, ultimate necessity. After the events at Fukushima Daiichi, the entire nuclear industry is rushing to extinguish the world-wide debate that threatens to expose its undeniable ineptitude, global danger, and unwillingness to adapt.
Public trust is shattered even if that fact is not accepted by industry
The facts coming out of Japan and other countries have shaken the public trust, no matter how much the fact is ignored and denied. Records obtained from international freedom of information act (FOIA) requests show the imbalance between the limited amount of effective inspections compared to the multiple records of falsifying safety reports. Without factual data being compiled, and extensive international inspections, nuclear power utilities around the world are putting pressure on every available resource to extend the shelf-life of aging nuclear plants to 60 years, double what experts designed plants for initially.
Much to the chagrin of politicians and institutions around the world, the call for a halt to all current nuclear expansion is increasing in every country. The Fukushima disaster has raised global awareness to the many questions about the adequacy of regulating agencies, and efficiency of operating license terms that are supposed to ensure nuclear power stations do not pose unacceptable risks to public health and safety, and the environment.
The nuclear industry has never been forced to operate under any international laws that define “unacceptable” and have avoided the issue as much as possible. Further investigation into the annals of nuclear history, show a glaring lack of interest in the collection and analysis of facts, on which to make a statutorily-required evaluation of the “hazards” presented from a nuclear reactor.
Instead of a system promoting effective regulation and control, the nuclear industry has created its own circus. The constant flood of opinion-based publications produced each year by the IAEA and other regulating agencies alone should be enough to prove the unwillingness to incorporate lessons learned from nuclear disasters to any open mind. Beyond the usual bullying, posturing, and ritualistic sacrifice of those that are unfortunate enough to be caught in the public crosshairs, the nuclear industry is ramping up efforts to deflect attention from the real issues it faces. If history does in fact repeat itself, the nuclear industry will not be held accountable for any of the recent incidents in Japan, and around the world.
How far is too far? How much is too much?
Despite many nuclear accidents, the nuclear industry has managed to defend itself throughout history from any question of criminal guilt and regulations hindering expansion or re-licensing. Many tools have been used to prevent the understanding of the true nature of nuclear disasters, the most glaring is an ability to acquire accurate information, and, delay, distort, and/or compartmentalize the critical updates
By allowing the continuous use of rhetoric designed to downplay the severity of an incident, international governments have condoned the nuclear industries ability to mislead the general public.
In permitting the re-licensing of nuclear reactors that were built outside of initial designs, or with known deficiencies, officials have failed to protect their constituents from many reactors around the world that present a probable risk within the next 10 years.
Decades of misdirection, information restriction, and the noted lack of published data analysis have conditioned the public to accept information provided without question.
The motivation is simple: the exposure of collusion between governments, regulating agencies, and the nuclear industry to provide a fake sense of deniable plausibility would trigger a massive overhaul of the entire nuclear industry and likely lead to the imprisonment of many of its leading members around the world.
This element of transparency is missing by design. The information that is provided during nuclear disaster is produced in a manner designed intentionally to be difficult to understand, unless the receiver is intimately knowledgeable of the many industry-specific terms, codes, and expected responsive actions.
The majority of the public attempting to interpret the original reports for accurate information are uninformed of this obfuscation, forcing them to either wait for a sanitized and simplified explanation, or draw dangerous conclusions about something which they know relatively little about, and understand even less. Those that do have a critical mindset, and do attempt to gain a deeper understanding are easily rebutted by top officials who conveniently point out their lack of ‘industry experience and knowledge’.
There has never been an international attempt to educate the public more about the real risks involved with nuclear reactors, allowing an educated decision to be made. The majority of the population remains unaware of nuclear power except for when a nuclear disaster becomes too real to hide.
What is the typical human reaction of facing a threat which is not clearly understood? The nuclear industry withholds the privilege of full disclosure from the general public to prevent ‘more confusion and panic leading to abnormal behaviors’. This type of formal education program has never been initiated so that the restriction of information can be justified by utilities, regulating agencies, and governments around the world.
Instead of addressing the issue, the repeated decision has been to make no effort to increase public awareness of potential risks or hazards during periods of time where a nuclear disaster is not occurring. Those that do have a critical mindset, and do attempt to gain a deeper understanding are easily rebutted by top officials who conveniently point out their lack of ‘industry experience and knowledge’.
There has also been no effort to change the presentation to a more comprehensible format or hasten the dissemination of information provided to the public. Rather, reports are delayed; data and up-to-date developments are restricted to those in a need-to-know basis, until the threat reaches a scale that mandates international attention. Yet everyone has a need-to-know when radiation leaks airborne, seaborne, or in the food chain.
Gaining independent data is not an easy task either, immediately after the disaster national governments bought up the majority of the stock of detection devices, and supplements used to combat potential radiation exposure in many markets, leading to an escalation in price and long lapse of availability. In Japan the government strongly advocated against citizens attempting independent analysis citing the costs and lack of reputable testing facilities and their possible motivations.
The fact remains that the data provided to the public from the government after every nuclear disaster has been heavily censored to downplay any potential reports that could incite panic. There is a large need for an international independent resource to be used to accumulate data that can be used to produce accurate up to date information for any interested individuals that is able to act at the capacity and volume required to ensure national monitoring systems are accurate.
The nuclear industry rushes forward despite factual data
In Japan, while most recent studies and independent research chart radiation from the Fukushima disaster traveling across the planet, officials maintain the public stance that there is no current or expected risk of contamination to those living in Japan or internationally. Instead, efforts have been made across the world at the national level to limit the spread of “rampant rumors” and “irreparable damage” which are a direct result of multiple concurrent cover-ups in the media today being exposed.
The stakes today are higher than ever. Plans to build more powerful facilities and increase the production of enriched weapons-grade material are proliferating throughout the world. For example: despite the catastrophic overall failure of the Monju Fast Breeder Reactor in Japan, efforts to expand nuclear power production have increased despite the glaring limit of fuel supply, which is expected to run out within one hundred fifty years.
If the nuclear industry in Japan is forced to admit the extent of the lack of safety in their nuclear reactors, every nuclear facility around the world will also be brought into question. Until the disaster in March, the Japanese nuclear program was the shining example used by every other national program to demonstrate safety, effectiveness, and profitability.
There is no mention of the use of antiquated reactors associated with many systematic problems that have been left uncorrected throughout the last fifty years. It would put a significant damper on current attempts to relicense many reactors, extending their production long past design. A nuclear power plant is an expensive operation to build, relying on government aid in many cases, and does not provide any financial return until the reactor is fired up.
Once running however, a nuclear power station is a gold-mine, whose profit margins increase exponentially each year of production. This is a heavily contested fact among many pro-nuclear parties, who claim the costs to maintain and retro-fit old equipment is much higher than thought.
However, most regulations are based off of voluntary actions taken by utilities, and no international regulations are enforced. International inspections and investigations after the Fukushima disaster show that little maintenance and preventive measures have been taken that would significantly increase a stations ability to withstand natural disasters, multiple onsite incidents, loss of external power for extended periods, or loss of back-up generators.
History has proved that nuclear accidents disrupt every facet of a nation. The effects can threaten the global economy and food supply. In Japan, this fact has been repeated, families living hundreds of miles from the exclusion zone are reeling from the devastating loss, massive drop in quality of life, and threat of contamination from the environment and food they are able to acquire. Businesses have been forced to adapt to limited power supply, forcing drastic reactions including shifting hours of operation, putting further strain on family life.
Why continue with a limited and uninformed understanding?
With the nuclear question on lips around the world spreading, all opinions should be based on accurate data, and ability to understand the full complexity of the situation. It is a question that should not be limited, but should expand to incorporate risks, technology, and events not previously required at power stations.
The current official response of making decisions to extend the nuclear future should be suspended until the current global nuclear situation has been brought under control. A thorough official review has been presented detailing the lessons learned and how they will be applied to every nuclear reactor. This information should be presented to the public in its complete form -- along with a future energy plan developed by each country to ensure that the future we experience is the future that we choose.
The author is a nuclear researcher in Chicago.© Japan Today