Fukushima and the Age of Distrust
It's been a year since the
catastrophic meltdowns at Japan's
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants. The stark, dramatic images of the
crippled reactors are hulking mountains of splintered shards forming a
radioactive tomb. Videos and photographs of the tumultuous ruins are blatant
messages about the dangers of nuclear power; the impacts of reported widespread
contamination of farmlands and waterways are predicted to last for generations.
Destruction from the earthquake and tsunami was biblical in its wake, causing three
reactors to eventually melt down. Contaminated radioactive hot spots are still
being found some 25 miles from the Daiichi reactors, rendering the area uninhabitable
and prohibiting over 90,000 people who lived in the area from returning to
The initial bungling of
misinformation by the Japanese government to the world and to its citizens
about the extent of the danger was a prime example of how national leaders
alter the truth to avoid panic, adding to the growing distrust of governments chummy
with the nuclear industry. That the Japanese no longer trust their leaders was
reported in a recent New York Times article by Martin Fackler, " Japan's Nuclear Energy Industry Nears Shutdown, at
Least for Now," ( http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/09/world/asia/japan-shutting-down-its-nuclear-power-indU.S.try.html?_r=1&emc=tnt&tntemail1=y ). Fackler reports that "all but two of Japan's
54 commercial reactors have gone offline since the nuclear disaster a year
ago," primarily due to the nationwide loss of faith in a "Japan 's
once-vaunted nuclear technology but also in the government, which many blame
for allowing the accident to happen."
In the post Fukushima era here in the U.S.,
the thunderous drone of 104 U.S.
nuclear generators roars on. Not only are the feds in denial about Japan 's disaster with claims that a 9.0
magnitude earthquake and tsunami can't happen here, but if anything, the
Japanese catastrophe has re-energized the U.S. nuclear renaissance.
And, as usual, the industry
has time on their side.
The pro-nuclear support by
the U.S. government and its
untouchable hand maiden, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, have dodged post Fukushima bullets aimed
at giving nuclear power a bad rep. Even though the NRC quickly threw together a
special Fukushima task force it took them an
entire year - almost on the eve of the
first anniversary of Fukushima
-- to issue safety rules to nuclear plant
owners who have until 2016 to comply. According to a Reuter's report on March
9, 2012, (http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/09/U.S.-utilites-nrc-fukU.S.hima-idU.S.BRE8281AC20120309 "U.S. implements new Fukushima nuclear safety policy by Scott DiSavino) the few
safety rules the NRC labeled "urgent" requires plants to beef up protection of
their safety equipment installed after the 2001 September 11 terrorist attacks,
and for plants to install enhanced equipment for monitoring water levels in
each reactor's spent fuel pool. Compliance with these orders is expected to cost
utilities each about $100 million, a fraction of what nuclear utilities rake in
The industry also has another year before they get on the
defensive about deleterious affects
from Fukushima contamination.
The United Nations Scientific Committee says their formal report, due out in mid
2013, hopes to reveal the extent of food contamination from the Fukushima accident. http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-03-05/children-of-fukU.S.hima-wait-for-un-radiation-study.
In the Fukushima aftermath the feds never skipped a
beat in their lock-step with the industry. Over a month before issuing a new set
of safety rules, the NRC gave a nod to Southern Company in Georgia to fast track two new nuclear plants at
the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric
Generating Plant near Waynesboro,
two new reactors will cost $14 billion a piece and the rushed construction plan
is unprecedented with completion expected by 2016 and 2017.
Southern Company is using
$14 billion of U.S.
backed loan guarantees -- an outward muscle flexing of this country's love
affair with nuclear power. The Energy Policy Act of 2005, which guaranteed
$18.5 billion in loan guarantees for companies building new nuclear plants, not
only remained unchallenged after Fukushima but President Obama attempted to
gift-wrap an additional $36 billion in loans to jump-start the renaissance -- a
request that Congress denied and one that didn't surface in the 2013 budget.
The global galvanization of the anti-nuclear
movement since Fukushima
has become skeptical of an industry in collusion with it's government - a
disaster-prone dynamic duo. For those seeking to shutter nukes permanently,
it's like swimming upstream against a doomsday trend that, not for the first
time, has screamed prophetic warnings: Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986, and now Fukushima (let's
not forget 9-11 when the Indian Point nuclear power plant outside New York City
was among the targets considered by Al Qaeda terrorists. http://www.energybulletin.net/node/1243
9/11 Report Reveals Al Qaeda Ringleader Contemplated
a NY-area Nuclear Power Plant as Potential Target).
There are countries who
have heeded the warnings of Fukushima: Germany, who is boldly phasing out all
their nuclear fleets by 2022, Switzerland, where
nuclear power produces 40 percent of electricity, plans to shut down its
reactors by 2034, Belgium is expected to phase out
their two remaining nuclear power plants and stations, and, Kuwait just
announced they are terminating a plan to build four reactors by 2022. Italy abandoned nuclear power after the 1986
In the U.S. however, the
priority for this billion dollar industry is the profitable bottom line. In
this powerful energy driven market, spending on programs that would lessen
risks and increase safety are budget items that trail far behind advertising
campaigns and powerful lobbyist strategies.
Nuclear energy lobbyists cozy with both state and federal
governments went into overdrive after Fukushima, rushing to assure Capitol Hill that U.S.
plants could withstand similar earthquakes and tsunamis like those that happened in Japan. Fukushima aside, the national
ticket to pay lobbyists by nuclear reactor owners has doubled from $27 million
in 2004 to $54 million in 2010.
Entergy, one of the biggest nuclear utility companies in the U.S. and owner of the aging Indian Point outside
of New York City, paid over $1 million to lobbyists
Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, the Vidal Group and
Featherstonhaugh Wiley & Cline to work their magic in Albany, New York 's
state capital. On the federal level, Entergy paid over $8.2 million to lobbyists
such as Breaux Lott Leadership Group and Peck, Madigan, Jones and Stewart in
2010 and 2011.
are looking over their shoulder at Fukushima
especially in the case of Indian Point, where the NRC is considering renewing
Entergy's operating license for 20 more years. Just 24 miles from densely
populated New York City and built on two seismic fault lines, Indian Point
spent fuel pools currently hold three times the radioactivity as the spent fuel
pools in the four Fukushima reactors . http://www.ips-dc.org/pressroom/expert_cautions_that_30_million_spent_nuclear_fuel_rods_are_unsafely_stored_in_united_states_could_cause_fukushima-like_disaster
Lobbyists, who are the
glue that solidifies the incestuous bond between government and nuclear power
utilities, can laugh in the face of potential risk with the no-fault backing by the Price Andersen Indemnity Act. Passed in 1957, Price Andersen
places a cap on the total amount of liability that each nuclear power plant
licensee could potentially face in the event of an accident. The public pays
the rest. The Act has been extended several times and is up for renewal in 2025. Price Andersen is what Toledo
Blade reporter Tom Henry calls the "mother of all bailouts" and "lets utilities
-- and their investors -- off the hook for all but $12.6 billion of any
catastrophe while taxpayers assume all other liability, a figure that could
potentially reach hundreds of billions of dollars." http://www.toledoblade.com/TomHenry/2012/03/01/Nuclear-power-indU.S.try-waits-for-Wall-Street-to-flip-the-switch.html .
$12 billion is a drop in the bucket when it comes to costs related to nuclear
accidents. According to UPI, FukU.S.hima Daiichi
owner Tepco needs at least twice that amount. The Japanese government wants a
bigger part in running Tepco before bailing the company out with $13 billion in
public funds and Tepco financial backers want assurances that the plants can be
restarted before lending the utility $12.4 billion. http://www.upi.com/Business_News/2011/09/17/Damaged-nuke-plant-may-lose-insurance/UPI-59231316292856/
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Abby Luby is a freelance journalist who has covered the Indian Point nuclear power plant in New York for over ten years, and the author of the new ebook "A Nuclear Romance." This novel is about living near a nuclear power plant in New York. Her (more...