Friday, April 29, Tokyo
As the situation at Fukushima is becoming less unpredictable, though not yet completely stabilized, and there is more information available, I will stop my daily writings on the nuclear power plant. Thank you very much for your encouragement and warm support.
Sunday, April 24, 4 p.m. ET, Tokyo
Month: April 2011
Friday, April 29, Tokyo
On March 11, 2011, I was in a lunch meeting in Washington, DC, when I learned that an earthquake and tsunami had struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Initially I was optimistic that the plant’s operators would be able to handle the situation. But as the accident grew to a level 7 in seriousness over the following weeks, my thoughts turned to the only other comparable accident in history — and its lasting effects on my life.
The ongoing nuclear power plant disaster in Japan has once again pushed the topic of radiation safety into the public consciousness, while also reminding us that the public continues to doubt government and nuclear industry information on safety and the effects of radiation. Part of this wariness stems from the fact that people cannot detect radiation using their own senses, which creates a dread of the unknown. People are also very aware that the effects of radiation are cumulative and may not appear for many years, so the outcome of a disaster like Fukushima is not easy to predict.
The risk-assessment method that engineers currently use to predict the probability of a severe nuclear accident is unreliable and creates a false sense of security.
In his famous address in Prague two years ago this month, President Barack Obama promised to “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy,” and committed to making concrete progress toward “a world without nuclear weapons.” His critics derided this nuclear vision as a utopian fantasy, and claimed that US nuclear policy declarations were unlikely to have positive effects on other governments. But a careful analysis suggests otherwise.
The multiple and ongoing accidents at the Fukushima reactors come as a reminder of the hazards associated with nuclear power. As with the earlier severe accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, it will take a long time before the full extent of what happened at Fukushima becomes clear. Even now, though, Fukushima sheds light on the troublesome and important question of whether nuclear reactors can ever be operated safely.
The ongoing Fukushima disaster will inevitably provoke a new examination of the biological effects of radiation from nuclear accidents, and it has already had a major influence on nuclear power initiatives worldwide. At present, the extent and levels of radioactive contamination around the reactor and in the affected Japanese prefectures is unknown, so any predictions of the effects on human and ecological populations would rely on mere speculation. However, our experience with the native fauna exposed to the Chernobyl environment may provide some insights.
Re-examining Japan's nuclear history could not only help the country come to terms with the Fukushima disaster, but help it find a future without the US nuclear influence that has shaped its past.
It is tragic that Japan, the most fiercely antinuclear country on the planet, with its Peace Constitution, three non-nuclear principles, and commitment to nuclear disarmament, is being hit with the most dangerous and prolonged nuclear crisis in the past quarter-century — one whose damage might still exceed that of Chernobyl 25 years ago. But Japan’s antinuclearism has always rested upon a Faustian bargain, marked by dependence on the United States, which has been the most unabashedly pro-nuclear country on the planet for the past 66 years.