Below is the second piece published on BNC on the lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis. For an earlier perspective, see: Preliminary lessons from Fukushima for future nuclear power plants.
Below is a Guest Post by Dr. William Sacks.
Bill is a highly experienced physicist and radiologist. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Rice University in 1959, a PhD in Harvard in 1966 (cosmology and general relativity), then did a medical degree and two-year postgraduate training at Connecticut Medical School, finishing in 1979. He followed this up with a residency in nuclear medicine and radiology at George Washington University through to 1985. He subsequently worked for 10 years as a general radiologist at Kaiser Permanente and later as a medical officer in the Office of Device Evaluation in the Center for Devices and Radiological Health for more than 7 years. In that time he worked with statisticians, physicists, other physicians, and many other specialties. He later worked as a clinical radiologist in Tuscon, and recently retired to spend time researching and writing on energy, climate change, evolutionary biology, economics, history, and physics/astronomy/cosmology.
LESSONS ABOUT NUCLEAR ENERGY FROM THE JAPANESE QUAKE AND TSUNAMI
Part 1: The recent events in Japan in context
Early media concentration on the nuclear plant at Fukushima Daiichi created a great sense of fear in people around the world. Reporting was distorted by both exaggeration and omission, focusing more on the reactors than on the quake and tsunami that killed over 20,000 people according to recent Japanese government estimates. Media reports still contain phrases like “222 times higher than the legal limit,” “higher than normal,” “radiation found in the water,” all of which are meaningless without comparisons that permit us to evaluate their significance. The patchwork of “experts” who were interviewed to explain the events, each with her/his own particular knowledge and set of interests, added to the confusion instead of replacing it with a sense of proportion.
An example of omission is the absence of follow-up on the oil refinery fire at Chiba, about 20-30 miles east of Tokyo and over 100 miles south of Fukushima. In fact, it killed 12 workers and required 10 days to put out the fire, which spewed toxic smoke and chemicals far and wide, as well as CO2 into the atmosphere that adds to global warming, and resulted in unknown numbers of latent cancers, heart attacks, asthma, and deaths. Yet once TV images of the flames, falsely linked through association with the nuclear reactors, lost their usefulness, they disappeared from sight.
Nor did the media report widely, if at all, on a hydroelectric dam in Fukushima prefecture, burst by the quake, that flooded 1800 homes, with unknown numbers of deaths. In addition to the estimated 20,000+ tsunami deaths, homelessness and ongoing lack of water and electricity affect hundreds of thousands of people.
Furthermore the Japanese government and the Tokyo Electrical Power Co. (TEPCO), owner of the Daiichi nuclear plant, have their own interests that help determine what they are willing to report or relay to the media. Indeed an Associated Press investigation yielded the fact that Japanese scientists had warned TEPCO that a quake and tsunami of these proportions was overdue according to the history of disasters in that area over the last 3,000 years, but the company rejected this prediction.
This is reminiscent of the ample warnings to the administration that New Orleans levees would not be able to resist a storm the size of Katrina in 2005 and that hundreds or thousands would die. Or of the recent BP oil spill in which collaborative malfeasance of both the company and the government regulators caused 11 immediate deaths of oil workers and uncountable deaths due to the toxic pollution of the Gulf Coast, as well as destruction of hundreds of thousands of livelihoods in the area. Or of the Challenger disaster in which 7 astronauts died in 1986, in an explosion of the rocket, seconds after take-off, in which the engineers had warned the NASA administrators that the O-rings had failed in tests and would fail again with fatal results. But NASA had a schedule to keep, under orders from the administration, and that was more important to them than the astronauts’ lives.