"Those who know do not talk, those who talk do not know."
There is hardly any other saying to describe the state of affairs about the nuclear disaster in the previous months. While in the far away continent of Europe the news and the panic which got along with them, spread like wildfire, the Japanese nation run through a troubled phase of confusion and disinformation in a calm way.
The two main actors ofthis play were and are the government ( Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his staff) and the responsible company TEPCO (abbreviation for: Tokyo Electric Power Company). Rather then learning by experience of nuclear incidents before, the whole political system made some drastic mistakes.
I will attempt to investigate the main points and compare them with the best-known case of political failure - Chernobyl.
Subsequently, there will be a view on the aftermaths in the nuclear policy worldwide, caused by the complex ofthemes.
Therefore a introduction in the course of events.
On the March 11th 2011, at 02:46 pm. local time, the earth ofthe Japanese island was shaking for six long minutes. It was the most powerful earthquake for Japan since the beginning of history. With a strength of9.0 and over 15,000 dead and 5,300 wounded people, it was a devastating catastrophe for itself. Followed by a heavy tsunami and several still very powerful aftershocks, most of the buildings in the northern east of the Japanese mainland where destroyed.
Well aware that Japan is the country with the most earthquakes around the world, all nuclear power-plants must have a special mechanism which guarantees a quick shut-down in case of such a natural disaster or additional buildings such as walls against high tsunami waves.
On the one hand this shut-down-mechanism worked very well, as in eleven reactor blocks of four different nuclear power-plants the cores have been shut down and saved immediately. On the other hand there where some problem children like the plants Tokai, Onagawa, Fukushima-Daini and one of the most powerful Japanese plants, the Fukushima Daiichi. The blocks one to four of Fukushima had sadly become famous as a symbol of the whole situation. The buildings of the reactors were destroyed by several fires and explosions, the hardest hit were one, three and four.
The main complication of these was the damage dealt to the cooling system which allows an overheat in the reactor-core itself. Under this circumstances the worst thing that could have happened, would have been a uncontrolled chain reaction, like it happened in Chernobyl 1986 or at least a particular meltdown as it happened during the Three Miles island accident.
After the emergency cooling system collapsed, TEPCO announced the nuclear emergency. Few minutes later they withdrew this statement partly.
Meanwhile the Prime Minister Naoto Kan launched an nuclear emergency response headquarters in Tokyo but does not mention the announcement of TEPCO.
The reaction of the government was the proclaiming of the state of nuclear emergency but it designated this only as a “precaution”. As a part of this state of emergency almost 2,000 residents near to the block one of Fukushima Daiichi have been asked to leave their houses.
After an increased amount of radiation the next day, caused by efforts to lower the pressure in the reactor the evacuation zone is put from three to ten and then to 20 kilo-meters.
Between the following Monday (March 14th) and Tuesday (March 15th) the explosions referred before occurred and in this time the government for the first time conceded the possibility of a nuclear meltdown, but only rated the events as “Accident with local consequences” (level 4) on the International Nuclear Event Scale.
(For comparison: A Level 7/ Major accident was Chernobyl, 26th April 1986; A Level 5/ Accident with wider consequences was the Three Mile Island accident, 28th March 1979) Well, fact is that already on Sunday (March 13th) a nuclear meltdown had begun but government spokesman Yukio Edano just talked about a high possibility of one.
Let us now move skip two weeks, characterized by changing and diffuse information policy. It is now March the 18th, 2011 the accidents of the blocks are rated to level 5 and the government for the first time talks about a closure of the whole reactor complex. Again in the future, on April 11th the Japanese Nuclear Safety Authority rates after an estimation for the amount of released radioactive materials the whole Situation on level 7 (Major accident).
Notice at this point that each reactor was rated separately and for themselves never surpassed the level 5. But 7 is not equal to 7. The incidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima cannot be compared exactly.
So far, the level of radioactive contamination in Fukushima is still much lower than after the explosion at Chernobyl. In any case, the entire situation was and is not only precarious for Japan, but for the whole world itself.
Indeed, it is questionable and absolutely not my point of view to break out in panic and run to the next pharmacy for iodine tablets like some people in for example Europe did. On the other hand, of course we must bear in mind the still alive fear of the Chernobyl disaster as a supporterfor such reactions.
This brings us to the next thread, an analogy with Chernobyl.
First of all, it seems inappropriate to compare such different political systems like the largely accepted democracy of Japan with the clearly non-democratic system of the USSR. All the more alarming is the fact of several analogies, not in the technical nature, but in the approach of information policy. From a technological point of view a contrast to Chernobyl is misleading but this is an essay with the focus on politics, the engineering aspects in which the accident is more comparable with the Three Miles Island accident shall not be further extended.
Chernobyl and the Three Miles island accident were the two forefathers of design- based accidents in the nuclear age and after them the standards of security had been increased, nevertheless there are some so called “beyond design-basis accidents”. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission of the United States defined this term as: " [..] a technical way to discuss accident sequences that are possible but were not fully considered in the design process because they were judged to be too unlikely. [..]"
Knowing well about the geographical position and its risks the nuclear power plants of Japan should have been full protected against any kind of earthquake and following tsunami. It is true, the argument that such a strong earthquake was expected is not fully insignificant, but neither did the responsible company TEPCO control their safety standards proper, nor did they fix and report weak points to the government.
Who is TEPCO, that it can aggregate so much power similar to the government?
The Tokyo Electric Power Company is the largest energy producer in Japan and among with the largest in the world. Some numbers to illustrate that. With a peak output around 64.3 gigawatts in 2001 it almost reaches the entire German production. The company has more than 28.6 million customers.
The company was already before Fukushima subject of intense criticism because of false or hesitant information policy in case of incidents and routine inspections.
TEPCO already made negative headlines due to this in the nineties because of Fukushima. At that time, the government ordered an inspection of the reports for the temperature ofthe water responsible for cooling between 1985 and 1988, all faked. In 2002 the company's president and four other senior managers had to withdraw. Reason for this was the discovery, that safety records had been adulterated for years. The company was accused for doing the same with over 29 repair reports.
As a result five nuclear plants had to be shut down temporarily - including Fukushima.
Falsified information has also been submitted to the inspectors during regular inspections. 2007, the company itself talked about wrong data. Unlike incident before these two did not lead to a shut-down of any facility.
I would like to draw your attention to the fact, that we are still talking about a nuclear power plant.
Please remember the definition of an “beyond design-basis accident”, too. This expresses the negligence of both, the company and the political institution responsible for nuclear questions in Japan, which is, as a matter of fact, close connected to the government. Additional to that, there where reports from the US for the Japanese government, that the Fukushima reactor, as one of the oldest models, is insufficiently prepared to respond to a loss of cooling water. Not only in the preparation for uprising events the company and the government seem to be similar to the case Chernobyl.
After the accident, the Soviet leadership was silent for days. Only after measurements of Scandinavian scientists showed anomalies, the meltdown was conceded by Moscow. However, those responsible had submitted false information. Back to Fukushima many non-Japanese politicians rated the incident faster and higher then the own authority.
Examples of this are France, PR China and Germany. Better managed than in Chernobyl was the evacuation. There the residents around the nearby city Pripyat - now a ghost town - were brought to safety after days. The explosion at Chernobyl hurled radioactive particles for miles into the air. The wind spread the radiation over thousands of kilometres. Experts are sure that this will be virtually impossible in Japan. This has to do with the the fact, that Chernobyl had a graphite-moderated reactor. Graphite is a type of coal, supporting several days offires. Vast tracts of land in Ukraine and Belarus are still contaminated today. In Japan, the radioactivity, carried by the wind, would go down quite close to the reactor. The consequences would be catastrophic nonetheless. The problem is especially high population density in Japan. Worst case then would be a downwind to Tokyo, as we saw the fear of the Japanese media. Despite the change of government, Japan still remained in its communication and information policy. Namely the pattern to let news be kept as a secret as long as possible and playing for time.
Logically Mass exodus and hysteria has to be avoided at all costs. For this the social order and national unity are adjured. The metropolitan area of Tokyo is home of 40 million people. The Japanese government is aware of what evacuation would have caused.
To avoid this, Japan's public broadcaster NHK (Nippon Hoso Kyokai) -for many Japanese the last reputable source- had been censored. This included the prohibition to show rescue-workers with protective suits checking victims with contamination meters.
Suppressing information in order to prevent panic?
The former chancellor of Germany Schmidt said in an interview with the weekly newspaper "Die Zeit": "It is necessary to avoid preventable panics. [...]
The government is not obliged to tell everything it knows. It is only obliged to ensure that it its saying the truth.”
He argued against abusing the disaster in Japan for the home-grown German nuclear power debate, which I will go into later.
A highlight to the end of this first part, shall be the point of change in the information policy. While the construction of the crises management was criticized by the foreign countries as to slow and not able to react properly the press came up with the statement of an discord between TEPCO, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency of Japan (NISA) and above all, the Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his crisis team. Initial cause were the constantly changing or missing explanations about the status of the nuclear power-plants. To give you again a concrete example let us move to the calamitous Monday (March 14th) described before. The explosions were followed by two hours ofsilence, until the News Agency KYODO reported about a “Bang”. Halfan hour later a government spokesman (again Yukio Edano, pitiable spearhead of the government these days) spoke -without any details- about a damage at the reactor. At the same time the NISA confirmed this, without any further information, too.
 New York Times2011
 TEPCO 2010
 James Randerson 2011
 Ball 2011
 Simon Rogers
 CBC News 2011
 Justin McCurry
 HIROKO TABUCHI
 TEPCO 2011
 CNN Wire Staff2011
 BBC 2011
 Mikka Pineda2011
 Nuclear Regulatory Commission 2011
 TEPCO 2010
 Makiko Kitamura and Maki Shiraki 2011
 CNN 2002
 Shigeru Sato
 Christian Sieben und Carola Siedentop
- Quote paper
- Robert Högerle (Author), 2011, The way of "No-Clear"/ Nuclear Policy, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/271958