Monday, March 12, 2012

Naoto Kan Writes for Foreign Affairs on March 11 Anniversary

Washington Post (Noda)? Nah. Former Prime Minister Kan will write for the limited, more sophisticated global readers who read Foreign Affairs magazine about the Fukushima nuclear accident.

Kan is smarter than Noda, and he opens the piece by talking about his father. Personalizing the accident. Clever ploy. His father told him about Prometheus, Kan says. Nice story. In addition to reading "Japan Sank (日本沈没)" by Sakyo Komatsu after the Fukushima accident started, he must be reading the Asahi Shinbun's "Trap of Prometheus" (which details his administration's horrendous response to the nuclear disaster).

From Foreign Affairs (3/8/2012), my comment in blue italic in square brackets:

Former Japanese PM Naoto Kan on the Fukushima Disaster
A Changing View of Nuclear Power

By Naoto Kan
March 8, 2012

My father was an engineer, and when I was a child, he told me the story of Prometheus, a famous Greek myth in which Zeus grows angry at Prometheus for giving humans the wisdom of fire, knowledge capable of bringing on disaster. As punishment, Zeus chains Prometheus to a rock, where an eagle pecks incessantly at his liver. Today, I cannot help but remember that story when I think about the development of nuclear technology, a modern-day incarnation of the wisdom of fire. [Alright, decent enough opening, you've got my interest. Now what?]

In college, I studied science and technology, and ever since, I have had a great admiration for the Pugwash conferences, a forum dedicated to the elimination of nuclear weapons (the group won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993). That is because nuclear weapons, which have the power to kill large numbers of people indiscriminately, are fundamentally at odds with the purpose of science, which is to contribute to people's well-being. To put it another way: Nuclear weapons contradict the very nature of humanity. In fact, this concern was the major reason why I aspired to be a political leader. [Uh... I don't see a connection.]

Long before the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, I knew there were serious unresolved issues regarding the safety of nuclear power and the disposal of radioactive waste. I took the position that these issues could be overcome by technology. With adequate safeguards, nuclear power plants could be operated safely and utilized wisely. Especially in recent years, in order to prevent global warming, nuclear power has been an effective replacement to power plants that feed on fossil fuels and pollute the atmosphere. In fact, before Fukushima, Japan had a plan to expand its network of nuclear plants. [The party line. No mention of nuke plants utilizing only one-third of heat generated and dumping the rest into the ocean, thus actually raising the temperature of seawater which may be contributing more to man-made global warming.]

Then, while I was serving as prime minister, the Tohoku earthquake occurred at 2:46 PM on March 11, 2011. Immediately, all reactors in operation at Fukushima Daiichi were shut down; nuclear activity there came to a halt. An hour after the earthquake, I received a report from Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) stating that several power generators at the Fukushima site were experiencing a total loss of power. An hour after that, there was an accident that suspended the cooling function. The earthquake had toppled the steel towers supporting power transmission lines. Saltwater damage rendered the emergency diesel generators inoperable. All power sources had been lost.

I was fully aware that total power loss and the suspension of cooling functions could then cause a meltdown and lead to further serious accidents such as the destruction of the reactor and the release of radioactive materials into the atmosphere. [Well you sure didn't act like you knew it was a meltdown.] We took every possible precaution, but our preparedness against total power loss proved insufficient. Over the next five days, Units 1, 2, and 3 melted down. Later, hydrogen explosions occurred inside the building of Units 1, 3, and 4. Fuel pools, used to store spent fuel, adjoin each reactor, and at one time, there was a possibility of the meltdown of this fuel pool, too. In the event of the meltdown of the fuel pools, a large amount of radioactive materials would have been discharged into the atmosphere, and if it continued, the evacuation of the entire metropolitan area, including Tokyo, might have been necessary.

If the reactors and spent fuel pools had gotten out of control, an enormous amount of radioactive material, possibly even several times more than the Chernobyl accident [Several times more? That's new info], would have been discharged into the atmosphere, impacting neighboring countries. To prevent this from happening was our responsibility as a nation. I was determined to fight to resolve the accident until the very end and at any cost, including the risk of my own life. [He could have volunteered to open the vent.]

The invisible menace of radioactivity would have seized Tokyo. The city is our nation's political and economic nerve center. Some 30 million people live in the metropolitan area. The impact of evacuating them all would have been immense. The impact on not only political matters but also the economy and human lives would have been immeasurable.

Fortunately, thanks to the life-risking efforts by TEPCO personnel, Japan's Self-Defense Forces, and local fire and police departments, injecting water into the reactors and fuel pools prevented further meltdowns and brought the entire accident under control. A very bad situation was narrowly prevented from becoming an accident of catastrophic proportions.

This accident was a war with an invisible enemy. [was? I thought it was still on-going.] The worst case scenario [which Kan declared "doesn't exist" and hid it until January this year] would have brought serious harm to the nation of Japan as well as a considerable inconvenience to its neighbors. [inconvenience?]

I have thought very hard about the types of safety measures necessary to prevent any such disaster from happening again. However, when one weighs these measures against the tremendous risks, it is clear that no amount of precautions will make a country completely safe from nuclear energy. I have reached the conclusion, therefore, that the only option is to promote a society free of nuclear power. My administration, as a result, changed its policy to reduce Japan's dependency on nuclear power, and the current administration is basically following the same policy. [No it doesn't. As to Kan's changing policy, it was considered a ploy to curry favor with the population who didn't want anything nuclear after the accident.]

Furthermore, the final disposal of high-level radioactive waste, which needs to be isolated from humans for more than 100,000 years before decaying to a safe level, is a serious issue. Far into the future, it is possible that current nations or boundaries could look very different. Therefore, we need to address whether responsibility for final disposal should rest solely with each nation. Although the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) currently states that the onus lies with each country, many nations, including Japan, do not have any clear solutions.

At the same time, this high-level radioactive waste problem presents a "generation ethics" issue: should we leave our burdens to future generations?

Despite the accident at Fukushima, plans abound for new nuclear power plants. Emerging nations such as China and India propose to meet their increased energy demands with new nuclear power. When it comes to nuclear weapons, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty established clear rules. However, with regard to nuclear power, there are insufficient mandates when it comes to safety. In large part, so long as a country's nuclear program does not involve weapons production, its operation and control are considered to be the responsibility of that state alone. Likewise, the export of nuclear power plant technology is also often just a business issue, not one of international security. [Kan was the one pushing nuke plant to Vietnam and other developing countries in the world.]

At the current rate, by the year 2030, the world can anticipate at least 100 more nuclear power plants in addition to the 432 already in existence. With this expected increase, the problems of whether the safety of the world can be secured without establishing an international institution to guarantee protection against severe accidents and the safety of final disposal of high-level radioactive waste weigh heavy on my mind.

International rules regarding nuclear power plants should be discussed not only at the international organizational level on nuclear power such as the IAEA but also at the level of the United Nations.

While the Fukushima accident was caused by a total loss of power as a result of the earthquake and tsunami, other means -- such as terrorism, civil war, or war against other countries -- could bring about the same result. Taking advantage of the lessons we learned from the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident, Japan should become a model country that is able to supply all its energy needs without depending upon nuclear power or fossil fuels.

In conclusion, I would like to suggest that every nation seriously consider a new framework for international rules regarding the safety of nuclear power plans and the disposal of high-level of radioactive waste. The costs of not doing so could ultimately be far too much to bear. [Why would international rules be any better than the national ones, particularly when the government like Japan and the company like TEPCO don't even follow their own rules?]

Well, the only intriguing part was the opening paragraph.

In case you missed, here's Kan's hagiography at Wall Street Journal on January 25, 2012. Kan definitely has a better PR agent than Noda.


Saidani said...

"At the same time, this high-level radioactive waste problem presents a "generation ethics" issue: should we leave our burdens to future generations?"

We should add that the government doesn't seem to have a problem leaving its debt burden on future generations. The point about ethics is that they are all-encompassing. Selective ethics is for politicians and other lowlifes.

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

Agree. He or his successor has no problem whatsoever spreading radioactive tsunami debris all over Japan, endangering the current and future generations.

Anonymous said...

Nice bit of keyword-hijacking there from Kan regarding Prometheus. His advisors know what they are doing. Watch 'Trap of Prometheus' fall from search engine results to be replaced with his own musings on Prometheus. Smart.

Anonymous said...

Kan did the right thing by refusing to allow TEPCO to abandon the site. Other than that, I don't know.

Anonymous said...

Essentially, the article admits to Japan's inability or at least its difficulties dealing with the aftermath of the nuclear accident. International cooperation, meaning help, is needed, which of course goes with international laws and regulations.

Personally, prior to Fukushima and never having looked into it, I wrongfully assumed that international regulation already exists and is handled by the IAEA. As the events of Fukushima have made clear, however, the IAEA really doesn't do anything much other then disseminate information it receives from the affected government/operator of the plant - true to its charter of promoting the use of nuclear energy vs. regulating it.

I, for one, couldn't agree more that international laws, safety regulations, and oversight is needed for the use of nuclear power since consequences, whether from normal operation (waste) or after an accident, potentially affect more than any one operating nation. This especially since such a nation naturally has self-interests to deal with that have to be carefully weighed against international interests, not to mention that ultimately it is the NPP-operating company to begin with that initially calls the shots on anything based on its willingness/ability to provide comprehensive information to the national government and its agencies. Obviously, the operator's main concern is and always has to be profitability, whereby safety and profitability almost always is a conflict of interests.

How likely international oversight, regulations, and enforcement would likely be successful and effective is highly debatable. If the success (or lack thereof) in controlling the development of nuclear weapons programs is any indication, I would tend to lean towards "not."

The only conclusion can then be that the consequences of the use of nuclear power - with or without accidents - are not manageable. Period. It should be phased out world-wide in favor of existing and newly to be developed energy source alternatives.
In the meantime, may God protect us against such consequences - and that as soon as possible.

Anonymous said...

If he could just make a confession about deliberately dumping highly toxic radioactive elements in the sea, sign it, we can let him off the death penalty and give him life in prison. Fair deal?
The Chenobyl plant manager got 10 years, but Kan did a much more horrendous crime.

Anonymous said...

"If the success (or lack thereof) in controlling the development of nuclear weapons programs is any indication, I would tend to lean towards "not."

This very much depends on what you call a success. The NNPT is a success, in that no signatory nation has ever breached it. North Korea withdrew before building and testing a nuke, while Iraq turned out to have been falsely accused.

Sure, this tells us nothing about rogue states such as India, Pakistan, Israel.

Atomfritz said...

"I was determined to fight to resolve the accident until the very end and at any cost, including the risk of my own life."

By the way, I never understood why the SDF air forces were not used to quickly flow in a few diesel generators.

But probably the Chinooks were deemed too valuable to let them end up on a nuclear vehicle graveyard like those MI-26s at Chernobyl.
So far "at any cost"...

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

I was screaming for those Chinooks on this blog in the first few days of the accident last year.

But this is the country which refused to use a brand-new fire engine in a fire after the Kobe earthquake because salt water would damage the pump.

But then, I've never heard of those fire engines that were used at Fukushima having been junked. (Were they?)

Anonymous said...

As a Japanese woman, I am sad to say but it is true, the country of Japan is full of excuses, full of cowards like Kan who can write pretty words but no action or backbone.

Kan wants to claim credit for forcing TEPCO to stay onsite, but it is also true that Kan's cabinet level nuclear safety officials stationed at Fukushima Daiichi evacuated themselves and families to 50km away at the first sign of trouble, while Kan's spokesperson was telling the residents "it is safe, no danger, no need to evacuate."

Kan also kept the radiation plume information to himself as he boarded the helicopter, repeatedly told lies about the existance and availability of the info that could have saved thousands of people from radiation exposure.

Kan and his government also banned distribution of the emergency iodine to the Fukushima residents on the reason "it would only make them worried" -- while he and his cabinet members enjoyed the protection of the emergency iodine pills, as newspaper photos from March 2011 show.

Atomfritz said...

Not fighting a blaze because of the fear that a fire truck's water pump could corrode a bit...
Forbidding distribution of iodine pills in an ongoing meltdown event just to avoid people get worried...

This is so mad. Kan should be sued because of assault against the health of the people who put trust into him.

No reason to believe the contaminated fire trucks got junked. Probably even its highly-radioactive air filters were cleaned by unsuspecting unprotected workers at some workshop, if they did a decontamination at all.

And the cars parked at the Fuku-I plant which got sprayed over with the vent blowouts will probably be soon just get moved to a carrier and quietly sold as used cars to some African country even if they should be put on some radwaste burial site.

When photos show these cars are gone, it'll probably be the time to do some research where they disappeared.

Anonymous said...

I think Kan took the right decision when he decided to shut down Hamaoka NPP.

a female Faust said...

nice job on the comments -- the entire exchange is what prompted the verse i posted. i thought i'd link to it there for completeness.

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