An ECONOMIC Expert – Rather than a NUCLEAR Expert – Briefed Japanese Prime Minister on Condition of Fukushima Reactors
The Japanese Prime Minister at the time of the Fukushima disaster – Naoto Kan – told Democracy Now:
NAOTO KAN: Even at the night of that first day of March 11, what I was being told, being reported, was that the water levels were safely above the level of where the fuel rods were located within the container. And, however, now we know that actually the measuring equipment to measure the water level was broken at that time. And only four hours after the earthquake occurred, actually, was when it experienced meltdown in the reactor one. And even through the container of thickness 20 centimeters, there was actually a hole being burned through, and melted fuel had been actually leaking through to the outside of the container. And now we know this information, that this was happening at 7:00 p.m. approximately on that day. But at the time, none of this information was accurately conveyed to me.
It was a situation very close to what we call perhaps the “China syndrome.”
And it was very difficult to obtain accurate information and to know what was really happening. And so, the next morning at around 6:00 a.m., very early, I decided that the best thing to do would be to speak directly with the person responsible at the site. So I departed at 6:00 a.m. by helicopter to go to the Fukushima Daiichi site. And there, I met with Mr. Yoshida, who was the person responsible at the plant, and he explained to me about the situation, from his perspective, which was occurring on the site. And he was a very clearly spoken man, which meant that it was very much a plus in terms of considering how to deal with the situation.
AMY GOODMAN: Wasn’t TEPCO management saying the same thing to you as this man you spoke to, the head of the actual plant, when you flew there?
NAOTO KAN: From what I was hearing from the headquarters of TEPCO, and in particular from Mr. Takeguro, who was the former vice president, was—had almost no accurate information being conveyed about what was actually the situation on site.
And one other important and serious issue at the time also was, in the case of a nuclear disaster, the system which was in place, well, the prime minister and the prime minister’s office would be in the head of, you know, the measures to be taken, the office, of what to be done from there. But the bureaucratic organization which was established to support that function was within the NISA, which is actually located within the Ministry of the Economy. And so, the person who was seconded to explain to me from the NISA about what was happening was actually not an expert on nuclear issues or nuclear power, but an economic expert. And so, through his explanation, it was impossible to know the actual situation of what was happening in the reactor.
This is not the first time Tepco has been less than honest:
- An official Japanese government investigation concluded that the Fukushima accident was a “man-made” disaster, caused by “collusion” between government and Tepco and bad reactor design
- Tepco knew very soon after the 2011 accident that 3 nuclear reactors had lost containment, that the nuclear fuel had “gone missing”, and that there was in fact no real containment at all. Tepco has desperately been trying to cover this up for 2 and a half years … instead pretending that the reactors were in “cold shutdown”
- Tepco admitted that it’s known for 2 years that massive amounts of radioactive water are leaking into the groundwater and Pacific Ocean, but covered it up
- Tepco falsely claimed that all of the radiation was somehow contained in the harbor right outside the nuclear plants
- Tepco has substantially under-reported the amount of radiation released at Fukushima
- Tepco – with no financial incentive to actually fix things – has only been pretending to clean it up. And see this
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is owned, captured and controlled by the nuclear industry.
NBC News reports (in some excellent investigive journalism):
In the tense days after a powerful earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan on March 11, 2011, staff at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission made a concerted effort to play down the risk of earthquakes and tsunamis to America’s aging nuclear plants ….
The emails, obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, show that the campaign to reassure the public about America’s nuclear industry came as the agency’s own experts were questioning U.S. safety standards and scrambling to determine whether new rules were needed to ensure that the meltdown occurring at the Japanese plant could not occur here.
At the end of that long first weekend of the crisis three years ago, NRC Public Affairs Director Eliot Brenner thanked his staff for sticking to the talking points that the team had been distributing to senior officials and the public.
“While we know more than these say,” Brenner wrote, “we’re sticking to this story for now.”
The NRC staff recognized immediately the public-relations nightmare that Fukushima presented for nuclear power in the United States. More than 30 of America’s 100 nuclear power reactors have the same brand of General Electric reactors or containment system used in Fukushima.
Yet the NRC has actually weakened safety standards for U.S. nuclear reactors after the Fukushima disaster.
There are numerous examples in the emails of apparent misdirection or concealment in the initial weeks after the Japanese plant was devastated … :
- Trying to distance the U.S. agency from the Japanese crisis, an NRC manager told staff to hide from reporters the presence of Japanese engineers in the NRC’s operations center in Maryland.
- If asked whether the Diablo Canyon Power Plant on the California coast could withstand the same size tsunami that had hit Japan, spokespeople were told not to reveal that NRC scientists were still studying that question. As for whether Diablo could survive an earthquake of the same magnitude, “We’re not so sure about, but again we are not talking about that,” said one email.
- When skeptical news articles appeared, the NRC dissuaded news organizations from using the NRC’s own data on earthquake risks at U.S. nuclear plants, including the Indian Point Energy Center near New York City.
- And when asked to help reporters explain what would happen during the worst-case scenario — a nuclear meltdown — the agency declined to address the questions.
Some of the nuclear industry bias can bee seen in the following quotes from NBC:
When Steven Dolley, former research director of the NCI and a reporter for McGraw Hill Financial’s newsletter Inside NRC, asked McIntyre for a nuclear containment expert to speak to a reporter, the spokesman asked if the reporter had contacted the industry’s lobbying group, the Nuclear Energy Institute.
Dolley asked, “So, should I say NRC is deferring inquiries to NEI?” suggesting that the NRC was deferring to the industry it is supposed to regulate.
McIntyre shared this exchange with his bosses, adding the comment, “F—ing a-hole.”
And some of the rampant hypocrisy is seen in the difference between public and private NRC talking points:
“Q. What happens when/if a plant ‘melts down’?
“Public Answer: In short, nuclear power plants in the United States are designed to be safe. To prevent the release of radioactive material, there are multiple barriers between the radioactive material and the environment, including the fuel cladding, the heavy steel reactor vessel itself and the containment building, usually a heavily reinforced structure of concrete and steel several feet thick.
“Additional, non-technical, non-public information: The melted core may melt through the bottom of the vessel and flow onto the concrete containment floor. The core may melt through the containment liner and release radioactive material to the environment.”
When reporters asked if the Japanese emergency could affect licensing of new reactors in the U.S., the public answer was “It is not appropriate to hypothesize on such a future scenario at this point.”
The non-public information was more direct: This event could potentially call into question the NRC’s seismic requirements, which could require the staff to re-evaluate the staff’s approval of the AP1000 and ESBWR (the newest reactor designs from Westinghouse and General Electric) design and certifications.”
Brenner, the public affairs director, sent a “great work so far” memo to his staff at HQ and around the U.S. His third bullet point highlighted he NRC’s role in helping Japanese engineers deal with the problems at Fukushima — a fact not mentioned in the NRC’s press releases that day. The emails indicate that the Obama administration and the NRC were keen to keep up the appearance that they were merely observing the Japanese nuclear crisis and had no responsibility for helping resolve it.