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Caveat nuclear

The government’s pro-nuclear chief scientist, John Beddington, immediately leapt in with assurances that Fukushima is very different from Chernobyl (which it is, but that’s not the point: Fukushima is highly dangerous in its own right) and not spewing out radioactivity because the Japanese had taken the right precautionary measures (so why did 180,000 people have to be evacuated?).

But that’s what the nuclear industry always does, whether in Japan (a sodium leak and fire at its Monju fast breeder reactor were suppressed in 1995, and in 2002 the Fukushima-owning Tepco company falsified its safety records) or in Britain (where a lengthy radioactive leak ‘the size of an Olympic swimming pool’ went unreported for months). Nor did the International Atomic Energy Authority calm world-wide fears by its assurance that dozens of Japanese reactors had not blown up. Pumping seawater into the stricken plant, a colossally expensive last resort which writes off the nuclear reactors for good, did not exactly soothe nerves either.

The truth is, the usual pattern of denial has been pursued yet again with the Japanese Government suppressing the radiation readings which it must have.   Wikileaks quotes one politician in Japan’s lower house as saying that the government’s nuclear energy department has been “covering up nuclear accidents and obscuring the true costs and problems associated with the nuclear industry”.   What we do know is that monitoring stations to the north-west of the nuclear plant found radiation levels equal to 4 months of natural background radiation, and an American warship reported low levels of radiation even at 100 miles from the Fukushima plant.

Could it happen in Britain? There are no earthquake fault-lines in the UK, but if the worst-case scenario of a nuclear meltdown occurs in tech-savvy Japan, it should give cause to question not just existing practices in this country, but also the wisdom or otherwise of an extremely expensive and risky nuclear revival. Resistance to new nuclear build has already led to the dangerous habit of extending the life-span of existing nuclear plants. Nearly all UK plants and waste dumps are built by the sea, which leaves them highly exposed to rising water levels as climate change causes a world-wide ice melt. The latest round of nuclear designs offer a cheaper price, but only at the risk of dropping the containment vessels which have proved so crucial in Japan.

So who now wants nuclear when it operates nowhere in the world without huge public subsidies, when reactor costs still run nearly twice over budget, when no solution has been found anywhere to the problem of large-scale radioactive waste storage, when it sparks nuclear proliferation risks (e.g. Iran), and when there is a never-absent threat of catastrophe which Japanese experience has once again brought to the fore?

One Comment

  1. A Ford says:

    Good article on this subject by a Japanese socialist:

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