Lessons from Fukushima nuclear disaster: millions remain at risk

by Greenpeace

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“While triggered by the tragic March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the Fukushima disaster was ultimately caused by the Japanese authorities choosing to ignore risks, and make business a higher priority than safety,” said Jim Riccio, Greenpeace USA nuclear policy analyst. “This report shows that nuclear energy is inherently unsafe, and that governments are quick to approve reactors, but remain ill-equipped to deal with problems and protect people from nuclear disasters. This has not changed since the Fukushima disaster, and that is why millions of people continue to be exposed to nuclear risks.”

Greenpeace commissioned Dr. David Boilley, a nuclear physicist with the French independent radiation laboratory ACRO; Dr. David McNeill, Japan correspondent for The Chronicle of Higher Education and other publications; and Arnie Gundersen, a former nuclear executive and chief engineer of Fairewinds Associates, to write “Lessons from Fukushima”. The report, peer reviewed by Dr. Helmut Hirsch, an expert in nuclear safety, reaches three important insights:

1) Japanese authorities and the operators of the Fukushima plant were entirely wrong in their assumptions about the risks of a serious accident. The real risks were known but downplayed and ignored.

2) Even though Japan is considered one of the best-prepared countries in the world for handling major disasters the reality of a large nuclear disaster proved to be far worse than what was planned for. Nuclear emergency and evacuation plans utterly failed to protect people.

3) Hundreds of thousands of people have been deeply affected by evacuations to escape radioactive contamination. They cannot rebuild their lives due to a lack of support and financial compensation. Japan is one of only three countries with a law making a nuclear operator liable for the full costs of a disaster. Yet, the liability law and compensation schemes are inadequate in Japan. Even a year after the disaster began, impacted people are essentially left on their own and Japanese taxpayers will end up paying much of the costs.

“Fukushima Daiichi was not just a nuclear accident; rather, for decades it was a nuclear accident waiting to happen. Flaws in the GE Mark 1 containment design were well known for four decades, and the likelihood of seismic and tsunami events far worse than the Fukushima Units were designed to withstand were well understood for more than 20 years,“ said Arnie Gunderson of Fairewinds Associates, a co-author of the report. “Against this prophetic backdrop, Tokyo Electric, Japanese regulators, and international nuclear organizations turned a blind eye toward these obvious warnings and continued to operate the reactors. Fukushima Daiichi is not unique, and these same nuclear regulatory institutions oversee other reactors in Japan and worldwide. Truly independent worldwide nuclear reactor regulatory institutions do not exist, setting the stage for similar accidents somewhere else in the world.”

Greenpeace is urging the Japanese Government to not restart its nuclear power plants in favor of a strong push to energy efficiency and renewable power, and calling for a global phase out of nuclear power by 2035 (2).

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