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Greenpeace & Stanford Publish Fukushima Impacts And Lessons

Five years on from one of the worst nuclear disasters in human history, Greenpeace and Stanford University have published reports investigating the Fukushima meltdown.

Greenpeace Slams Fukushima Rhetoric

Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior sailing past the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, five years after the accident. The environmental organization has launched an underwater investigation into the marine impacts of radioactive contamination resulting from the 2011 nuclear disaster on the Pacific Ocean.

Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior sailing past the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, five years after the accident.

Late February, Greenpeace launched a high-tech investigation into the radiation effects stemming from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Greenpeace has also published a new report, however, based on a large body of independent scientific research and Greenpeace’s own investigations conducted over the past five years into the effects on impacted areas, and the results are not good.

“The government’s massive decontamination program will have almost no impact on reducing the ecological threat from the enormous amount of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster,” said Kendra Ulrich, Senior Nuclear Campaigner at Greenpeace Japan. “Already, over 9 million cubic metres of nuclear waste are scattered over at least 113,000 locations across Fukushima prefecture.

“The Abe government is perpetuating a myth that five years after the start of the nuclear accident the situation is returning to normal. The evidence exposes this as political rhetoric, not scientific fact. And unfortunately for the victims, this means they are being told it is safe to return to environments where radiation levels are often still too high and are surrounded by heavy contamination.”

Greenpeace notes that the results of its report expose “deeply flawed assumptions by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Abe Government in terms of both decontamination and ecosystem risks.” The study highlights several environmental impacts:

  • High radiation concentrations in new leaves, and at least in the case of cedar, in pollen
  • apparent increases in growth mutations of fir trees with rising radiation levels
  • heritable mutations in pale blue grass butterfly populations and DNA-damaged worms in highly contaminated areas, as well as apparent reduced fertility in barn swallows
  • decreases in the abundance of 57 bird species with higher radiation levels over a four year study
  • high levels of caesium contamination in commercially important freshwater fish; and radiological contamination of one of the most important ecosystems – coastal estuaries

“There is no end in sight for communities in Fukushima – nearly 100,000 people haven’t returned home and many won’t be able to,” continued Ulrich. “The Japanese government should put its citizens first, the majority of who reject the restart of  nuclear reactors. Many are demanding the only safe and clean options that can meet Japan’s needs – renewable energy.”

Stanford’s Three Lessons

Accompanying research published five years on, Stanford University professor and expert on nuclear materials, Rodney Ewing, outlines three key lessons that must be taken away from the Fukushima tragedy:

Avoid characterizing the Fukushima tragedy as an ‘accident’

Greenpeace-9In short, Ewing notes that this was not an ‘accident’, but rather “a failure of the safety analysis.”

“The Japanese people and government were certainly well acquainted with the possibility of tsunamis,” said Ewing. “Communities had alert systems. But somehow, this risk didn’t manifest itself in the preparation and protection of the backup power for the Fukushima reactors. The backup power systems, the diesel generators for reactors 1 through 5, were low along the coast where they were flooded and failed. They could have been located farther back and higher, like they were at reactor 6. These were clearly failures in design, not an accident.

“This is why when I refer to the tragedy at Fukushima, it was not an accident,” added Ewing. “When some speak of such an event as an ‘act of God,’ this has the effect of avoiding the responsibility for the failed safety analysis. We need to use language that doesn’t seek to place blame, but does establish cause and responsibility.”

Rethink the meaning of ‘risk’

“It can be that the risk analysis works against safety, in the sense that if the risk analysis tells us that something’s safe, then you don’t take the necessary precautions,” said Ewing. “The Titanic had too few lifeboats because it was said to be ‘unsinkable.’ Fukushima is similar in that the assumption that the reactors were ‘safe’ during an earthquake led to the failure to consider the impact of a tsunami.”

Nuclear energy is strongly linked to the future of renewables

“In countries like Germany and Switzerland, the Fukushima tragedy was the last straw,” Ewing said. “This was particularly true in Germany, where there has always been a strong public position against nuclear power and against geologic waste disposal. Politically, Germany announced that it will shut down its nuclear power plants.”

“To me, Germany is a wonderful experiment. Germany is a very technologically advanced country that is going to try to do without nuclear energy while simultaneously reducing its carbon emissions. This will require a significant investment in renewable energy sources, and that will be costly. But it’s a cost that many Germans seem willing to pay.”

Image Credit: Greenpeace

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