Posts Tagged ‘nuclear power’

I’d like to focus on something that has become even more clear to me over the past week since the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant crisis began on March 11, 2011 – the need to get your information from a wide variety of sources.

Because we live in northern Japan, we (my family and I) need access to accurate information. We got information from dozens of sources, including text, photos, and videos. What became clear is that if you were relying on only one source of news, you’d get a very limited view of the truth. Here are a couple of the contradictions I’ve noticed over the past week:

1. The severity of the situation at the Fukushima power plants

While Japanese officials have rated the situation at Fukushima at level 4 of 7 levels, the French nuclear safety authority has rated it at level 6 according to the “International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale — or INES – which goes from Level 1, which indicates very little danger to the general population, to Level 7, a “major accident” in which there’s been a large release of radioactive material and there will be widespread health and environmental effects”. Chernobyl was level 7. According to this CNN article, experts themselves disagree over how serious the situation is. This gives rise to a wide variety of interpretations in the press from Armageddon to, the Christian Science Monitor’s claims of exaggeration. I am a native speaker of English and thus I have access to reports from countries other than Japan. Many Japanese do not have an English level high enough to read English, so they are dependent on Japanese sources alone. I am trying to find out if outside sources are being translated into Japanese for Japanese websites.

2. TEPCO’s safety record and its past involvement in cover-ups

The Japanese press seems to be just reporting what TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) is telling them. According to Yoichi Shimatsu writing for, “Japanese agencies are no longer releasing independent reports without prior approval from the top. The censorship is being carried out following the imposition of the Article 15 Emergency Law.” Thus Japanese news media are even less free to report than usual.

TEPCO has a vested interest in making themselves look professional and competent, while inside and outside sources say that TEPCO has been involved in a number of cover-ups over the years. According to The Australian, TEPCO falsified inspection records in 1989. According to Rachel Maddow at MSNBC, in 2002, the president of TEPCO and four top officials were forced to resign after it was discovered that TEPCO had been falsifying safety records at its nuclear plants for years, dating back to the 1980’s.” Youichi Shimatsu, former editor of the Japan Times, says that a massive cover-up is now underway in Washington and in Tokyo. Instead of sending representatives of the Department of Energy or from the Nuclear Safety Agency, “they sent members of USAID, which is basically intelligence officials. Already the cover-up is going on at very high levels in Washington and in Tokyo.” (This video made by CCTV News (China Central Television) has been removed from many sites including YouTube but is now back on at YouTube, perhaps temporarily.)

There is more bad news on cover-ups, this time by the government. According to the same Yoichi Shimatsu, this time back at, “Back in 1996, amid a reactor accident in Ibaraki province, the government never admitted that radioactive fallout had drifted over the northeastern suburbs of Tokyo. Our reporters got confirmation from monitoring stations, but the press was under a blanket order not to run any alarming news, the facts be damned.” As well, Rachel Maddow reports that in 1995 government officials tried to cover up how bad the fire was by releasing a doctored video. According to CBS News in an article titled “Scandal-ridden energy company behind Japan’s nuke crisis”, a worker was told to “edit out footage showing cracks in plant steam pipes in video being submitted to regulators.” As well, in addition to other accidents and cover-ups, “In 1999, fuel-reprocessing workers were reported to be using stainless steel buckets to hand-mix uranium in flagrant violation of safety standards at the Tokaimura plant. Two workers later died in what was the deadliest accident in the Japanese industry’s history.” In another case, “at least 37 workers were exposed to low doses of radiation at a 1997 fire and explosion at a nuclear reprocessing plant operated in Tokaimura, northeast of Tokyo. The operator, Donen, later acknowledged it had initially suppressed information about the fire.”

All of this points to an incompetent industry and lax government oversight. How many of the current problems at the Fukushima power plants could have been avoided if the safety checks had been carried out properly? According to Greg Palast at Truthout, “Last night, I heard CNN reporters repeat the official line that the tsunami disabled the pumps needed to cool the reactors, implying that water unexpectedly got into the diesel generators that run the pumps. These safety backup systems are the “EDGs” in nuke-speak: Emergency Diesel Generators. That they didn’t work in an emergency is like a fire department telling us they couldn’t save a building because ‘it was on fire’.” Were these failed EDG’s checked according to industry standards? With the record TEPCO has, we can suspect that they were not. But with the CIA counselling the Japanese government, we will never know.

The point I’d like to make is that it took a lot of searching to gather this information. If I hadn’t done it, I’d probably be thinking, like most of the world, that this critical event at Fukushima is happening because of an unavoidable act of nature. Well, there are many who would say why build a nuclear reactor close to a fault line, and I’d have to agree with them. But without looking thru the “mass of media” I would not have known about the scandals behind the nuclear power industry in Japan, nor of the cover-ups by the government. I’m more inclined now to trust outside sources who say that Fukushima is experiencing a level 6 nuclear disaster out of 7, and I’m less likely to believe any news coming from Japan on this topic.

Since we live in Japan, it’s vital to get reliable information regarding the amount of radiation being released. The problem is that I know that I cannot trust the Japanese media to accurately report on this, and western media does not have enough access to reliable data either. So we are in a bit of a twilight zone, something of a blackout. People’s lives are on the line at the Fukushima power plants, and this is the result of carelessness on the parts of TEPCO and the federal government. With a cover-up going on, we may never get accurate information regarding this “accident”, which could have been prevented if proper safety checks had been carried out.

Some, if not all, of the workers who are presently working under very hazardous conditions at Fukushima will develop radiation sickness, and some will likely lose their lives. While I agree that these workers are heroes, their families have a right to be extremely angry with both TEPCO and the federal government for allowing this to happen. A class-action suit against both TEPCO and the federal government would be the most likely course of legal action, but it will not prevent radiation sickness and loss of life.


(Updates are posted in italics in local Japan time. I’ll update if there is big news and if I have time.)

Thank you for asking. We are all fine. Many of my family members and friends wrote to us to check on us and express their concern. Here is the answer I am sending them. I thought I should post it here too.

UPDATE (7:50 a.m. Mar. 16): There is a new fire at the Fukushima plant and two workers are missing. We are back on high alert.

We are getting conflicting information but apparently today (March 16 here in Japan) and tomorrow are the key days. If there are no more explosions then it’s likely that only low levels of radiation will leak from the reactors, something similar to 3-Mile Island, where no one died from radiation but food and animals were irradiated. The official story is that no one got cancer from the 3-Mile Island accident, that all cancers that people had after the accident were in fact pre-existing conditions. But you know how skeptical I am of official versions.

So now apparently the radiation has gone down around the Fukushima plant and in Tokyo as well. But another blast and the wind blowing south could mean the irradiation of tens of millions in Tokyo and surrounding areas. The severity cannot be determined now. We are about 600 km to the NNE of Tokyo and any chance of being irradiated is small, as far as I know, but I sent an e-mail to a scientist friend of mine to ask about that just in case.

The situation is not good for the survivors. There is not enough food and water and medical supplies. Many places are without electricity. Almost half a million are homeless and staying in public shelters like gymnasiums and many of those are without heat and electricity. Authorities are taking financial donations only, so we are not collecting blankets, food etc. here in Kitami. We donated thru the YMCA here, and donations are being accepted by the Red Cross and many other agencies.

In Tokyo stores are emptied or emptying of toilet paper, batteries, and rice. Gas stations in damaged areas have no gas or very long lines. Here in Kitami there is very little rice and gas is being rationed to 20 litres per car. We don’t know if people are hoarding rice here, as they are doing in Tokyo, or if it has been sent to survivors, which would be a much better response. Here little has changed except for the rice going missing and the gas rationing. My children are going to school and life is continuing as usual. It’s like a very strange parallel universe here right now with most people unaffected directly (indirectly we are all affected) by the quake and tsunami but others having their lives completely changed. As far as we know, all our friends are safe. But our friend’s brother has been missing for 4 days now. UPDATE: Some of my students are missing but I do not know how many or who they are.

Some countries have advised foreign nationals to leave Tokyo and areas hit by the quake and tsunami. Our friend’s Canadian friends have left already, returning to Canada. We have reservations to Thailand if we need them. If there was a major blast at Fukushima, or some other critical accident, and a major meltdown started, we would probably leave. Children are the most susceptible to radiation sickness and I’ve always been the kind of person who says, “Better safe than sorry”, at least when it comes to my children. Japanese authorities are saying the worst is over, and they say that the accidents at Fukushima rate at level 4 out of 7, according to the “International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale — or INES – which goes from Level 1, which indicates very little danger to the general population, to Level 7, a “major accident” in which there’s been a large release of radioactive material and there will be widespread health and environmental effects”.But the French nuclear authority has assessed damage at level 6, one level below Chernobyl.

So we have conflicting information too, and we are monitoring the situation from early morning to midnight. If we go to Thailand, we’ll let you know. But for now we are just being vigilant in checking the news, and hoping that the situation gets better for the survivors soon. Then there is the financial crisis that all of this has caused…

Thank you again for all your messages and concern. We will write again if anything changes in our situation here.