Comment on the Comments by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Representative Tomoyuki Taira

Comment on the Comments by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Representative Tomoyuki Taira 

Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress and Arjun Makhijani

Former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio and Representative Taira Tomoyuki wrote a bold, courageous and very public comment in the December 15 issue of Nature magazine calling for the immediate nationalization of the Fukushima Daiichi (FD) nuclear power plant. Their biggest frustration is the problem that TEPCO has inflicted on the public since day 1 of this tragedy: a lack of transparency, a lack of being forthcoming about the depth and breadth of the problem. We are dismayed to learn that TEPCO refused to give the reactor manual even to the former Prime Minister of Japan at first, and when it did, it redacted portions.

The article throws some light on what TEPCO might be trying to hide. TEPCO has declared a successful “cold shut down” while the authors quite rightly point out that this claim may be irrelevant given that some of the fuel has reached the concrete floor and may breach it, posing a threat of unremediable contamination of ground water. Now that TEPCO has announced a “cold shutdown”, surely they should be able to access the concrete base and verify its integrity!

The article also indicates that TEPCO and the Japanese nuclear regulator may have misled the public when they stated in April 2011 that a measurement that provided evidence for ‘re-criticality’, that is a restart of a chain reaction for at least a brief spurt, was incorrect. After the former Prime Minister and his team finally got the raw data, they concluded that a re-criticality could not be ruled out – the evidence was inconclusive.

We raised this issue in a paper (available in English and Japanese) by one of us (Dalnoki-Veress), released March 28. There we analyzed the implications of TEPCO’s Chlorine-38 measurement from sea water in the turbine of FD reactor #1. At the time, sea water was used to cool the reactor in the absence of access to regular water. We estimated the neutron flux in the reactor core needed to explain the measured concentration of Chlorine-38 (which is an activation product of non-radioactive Chlorine-37 naturally present in the salt in sea-water). This led to the uncomfortable conclusion that natural spontaneous fission could not explain the measured Chlorine-38 concentration; the possibility of a re-criticality was clear and could not be ignored. It could happen again. Our fear at the time was that a re-criticality could cause workers to be “in considerably greater danger than they already are when trying to contain the situation”. We hoped that TEPCO would take our concerns into consideration and respond to our conclusion by further analysis, especially as many analysts have mentioned the need to measure the concentration of sodium isotopes. After the paper was published, TEPCO claimed the measurement was in error.

The authors of the comment in Nature have taken an independent look at the TEPCO data and found the data to be consistent with the initial March 25th measurement of Chlorine-38. This implies that as we suggested in late March the possibility of re-criticality cannot be ignored. Efforts must also be made to determine why so many official simulations don’t predict a re-criticality. An independent investigation is clearly called for not only to determine if TEPCO covered up the results, but to understand what actually happened for the sake of future safety.

The immense problem of cleanup at the site, which will take decades and cost untold sums of money, the problem of people who have no homes to go back to, the problem of contaminated businesses and schools and farms – none of these problems can be addressed with confidence with TEPCO in charge of FD. In any case, the company does not have the assets to deal with the damage and compensation claims.

We agree and echo the authors call for an independent scientific committee to look at all the data in an objective way devoid of the “dangerous optimism” of those who work within the nuclear industry. Nuclear safety demands that the damage from the earthquake prior to the tsunami and possible damage from the aftershocks be understood. Secrecy is inimical to safety and it is also hostile to democracy. But nationalization must be carried out on condition of complete transparency — including publication of all prior documents and measurements, including raw data. Governments are no strangers to secrecy; nationalization will not help if we go from corporate secrecy to a governmental one.

The stakes are high for Japan and indeed for the world, since despite the disaster at FD nuclear power is expected to expand in Asia and the Middle East. In addition, immediate risks for workers attempting to mitigate the situation need to be quantified and fundamental questions need to be asked about the risks the industry poses for society. Certainly they need to be posed before TEPCO and other Japanese corporations are allowed to sell their nuclear power wares to third countries.

Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress is a Research Scientist at the James Martin Center for Non-Proliferation Studies of the Monterey Institute of International Studies. He is a specialist on nuclear disarmament and on aspects of global proliferation of fissile materials. He holds a PhD in high energy physics from Carleton University, Canada, specializing in ultra-low radioactivity background detectors. He can be contacted here: ferenc.dalnoki@miis.edu and 831- 647-4638.


Arjun Makhijani is president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (www.ieer.org). He holds a Ph.D. in engineering (specialization: nuclear fusion) from the University of California at Berkeley and has produced many studies on nuclear fuel cycle related issues, including weapons production, testing, and nuclear waste, over the past twenty years. He is the author of Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy the first analysis of a transition to a U.S. economy based completely on renewable energy, without any use of fossil fuels or nuclear power. He is the principal editor of Nuclear Wastelands and the principal author of Mending the Ozone Hole. He can be contacted here: arjun@ieer.org.

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