“Out of work? Nowhere to live? Nowhere to go? Nothing to eat?” the online ad reads. “Come to Fukushima.” So begins a truly frightening article posted yesterday by the New York Times. The article is about Tepco’s efforts to recruit unskilled and destitute people to work on the clean-up of Fukushima–a monumental task that will remain monumental for many years. It’s a job that Tepco should be putting the best and brightest to work on–not only its own, but it should be recruiting for those attributes around the world and offering salaries to match. But the truly appalling reality is not that Tepco is recruiting unqualified people and paying them starvation wages, it’s that, according to the article, the reason Tepco is recruiting such people is so that its best and brightest can work on restarting its huge Kashiwaziki-Kariwa nuclear complex–the largest nuclear reactor site in the world and itself severely damaged by an earthquake several years ago in a precursor that should have been a clear warning to Japan and the world that nuclear power and earthquake faults don’t mix.
We’d say Tepco should be ashamed, but clearly the company lost any sense of shame long ago. So, instead, we’d say that Tepco should be dismantled and taken out of existence. This company has removed itself from any pretense of being an acceptable operator of nuclear reactors, or anything else. We wouldn’t trust them with a box of Legos.
If only to help ensure its own survival, one would think that the international nuclear power industry would be leading the charge to remove Tepco as a nuclear utility. But, don’t count on that to happen. The industry’s wounds over the decades have mostly been self-inflicted and there is little indication the industry has ever learned from any of them. So, with their own lack of shame, the industry will continue to stand aside and let Tepco dump radioactive water into the ocean, inevitably spark new–hopefully contained–accidents during the “clean-up” process, and generally show that even triple meltdowns and general nuclear catastrophe aren’t enough to create a learning experience. And the nuclear industry wonders why nuclear power consistently–and worldwide–shows up around the bottom–along with coal and oil–of every list of which energy technologies the public wants to see used in the future.
(A complete aside: whoever at the New York Times decided it would be a good idea to prevent people from copying and pasting text from online NYT articles should be fired. What good does that possibly do for the paper? But it does deter people from referring to NYT articles with exact quotes, which would not seem to be a particularly laudable goal for the paper).
In another blockbuster piece posted yesterday, the New York Times also shows that the Japanese government has lost–or perhaps never had when it comes to nuclear power–all of its sense of shame as well. The article describes the government’s pressure on scientific researchers not only to not publish their findings about how much radiation was released at Fukushima and its effects on the environment in the immediate aftermath of the accident, but continues to do so today. The article relates the case of Michio Aoyama, a senior scientist at the government’s Meteorological Institute, who calculated in March 2011 that Cesium-137 releases into the Pacific Ocean could be 10,000 times higher than contamination from Chernobyl. The government successfully pressured Aoyama to remove his name from a paper to be published in the journal Nature, which led to that publication deciding not to publish the article–after all, scientific journals don’t typically publish anonymous research papers. Unfortunately, that attitude hasn’t changed in the three years since Fukushima, and the government continues its efforts to stifle legitimate scientific research.
And, in another indication of either incompetence or complicity by the Japanese government, this long article explains why more than a million potassium iodide tablets were not distributed to people exposed to radiation from Fukushima–even though experience from the Chernobyl accident demonstrated clearly that taking the tablets helps prevent thyroid cancer from exposure to Iodine-131. While most thyroid cancers take a few years to develop, some 75 cases of confirmed or suspected cases of the cancers already have been identified among 270,000 children in the region who have been tested–a far higher rate than would normally be expected. The government and nuclear advocates claim the cases don’t necessarily indicate the cause was Fukushima radiation; rather, they say, it is a result of testing children who would never have been tested before. And while that argument may not be entirely wrong, neither does it explain why the rate is so much higher than normal. Given that, if radiation exposure is indeed a cause and that adults can get thyroid cancer too, we expect to see a new spike in thyroid–and other–cancers in the coming years.
Tellingly, this post points out that even though the potassium iodide tablets were available but not distributed, the one group that did receive and take them were the “doctors, nurses, administrative stuff and their children/relatives, and the students of Fukushima Medical University.” Maybe they knew something the government didn’t want to admit?
March 17, 2014
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