The fiasco in Fukushima has been hobbling from cover-ups to partial revelations ever since the three reactors have melted down after the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. The owner of the power plant, TEPCO – famous for its parsimoniousness with the truth and lackadaisical handling of the fiasco – always pretended that the situation was under control. Until September 13. Only six days after the IOC had made the decision to let Tokyo host the 2020 Summer Olympics, TEPCO admitted that Fukushima was “not under control.”
There’d been a barrage of assurances to the contrary, from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on down. On September 5, Tsunekazu Takeda, president of the Japanese Olympic Committee and great-grandson of Emperor Meiji, was in Buenos Aires to work the IOC. Afterwards, he told reporters: “Now, Tokyo is very safe.” In fact, “the water, the seafood, and also the radiation are absolutely safe.”
He pointed at the government’s decision to step in and do something – no one yet knows what – about the massive amount of groundwater that was being contaminated on an ongoing basis with radioactive materials and then leaked into the ocean, a fact that inconveniently blew into the open before the IOC decision.
On September 7, at the cusp of the IOC decision, Abe himself promised that the problem was “under control,” that the government would “take a lead in achieving a complete resolution of this problem,” and that in 2020 there would be “absolutely no problem.”
Alas, the problems have been spiraling out of control from the beginning – because nuclear reactors and their fuel, once they go haywire, tend to defy human control.
The enormous amounts of radioactive water that have spilled into the Pacific since the early days of the fiasco have created the now famous “TEPCO fish.” At the time TEPCO, claimed it didn’t know where all this radiation was coming from, and blamed some leaking tanks – seals or sheets that lined the tanks might be defective, it said. Now we know: highly radioactive groundwater has been leaking into the ocean on a massive scale. One of the most radioactive specimens was a greenling caught in early April. It contained 7,400 times the government’s safety limit for radiation in food. To be consumed with moderation. If it weren’t so tragic, TEPCO’s bumbling behavior would be funny.
Then there are the spent-fuel rods that are kept in water-filled pools near the reactors. They contain plutonium, one of the most deadly substances around. The heavily damaged pool of reactor 4 is threatening to collapse. If the 400 tons of fuel rods in it catch fire, it could unleash 14,000 times the radiation of the nuclear bomb that hit Hiroshima. And now TEPCO – the outfit that has become famous for its lackadaisical handling of the fiasco – is trying to remove these fuel rods without blowing them up.
Throughout, the government backed TEPCO, bailed out its investors, and made no effort to force daylight on its shenanigans; too many bureaucrats and too many lawmakers in the governing LDP – which has run Japan since 1955, except for about four years – are tied to the nuclear industry.
Last month, when the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (MITI) started accepting proposals from companies to deal with the radioactive groundwater, it issued documentation that was entirely in Japanese, a clear signal that it would stick to its philosophy of keeping out foreign companies – it added English versions only after an international mini-uproar forced it to.
Now a month after the IOC’s decision to let Tokyo host the 2020 Olympics, Abe, with impeccable timing, announced at an international science conference in Kyoto that Japan would indeed need international help in grappling with the current fiasco and in decommissioning the plant, which will take 40 to 50 years, assuming it won’t blow up beforehand.
“My country needs your knowledge and expertise,” he told these scientists. “We are wide open to receive the most advanced knowledge from overseas to contain the problem,” he said, for the first time ever – after having promised before the IOC decision that the problem had already been contained. Because the Olympics are going to be a big boon for Japan Inc. and certain property developers, the truth about the Fukushima fiasco must not be allowed to get in the way.
Even within his party, Abe is feeling the heat (a little). Popular and still influential former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has slammed Abe’s policies that would return the scandal-plagued nuclear industry to its former glory. He has emboldened a small group of rebels in the LDP – “looked upon with mild amusement“ by the rest of the LDP – with his demand for “zero nuclear power.” As prime minister, he’d groomed Abe to become his successor. Now they’re on different sides of the issue, and Koizumi’s words are having an impact. Read….The End Of Nuclear Energy In Japan?