What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
— Ecclesiastes 1:9
These words are said to have been penned by King Solomon around 3,000 years ago. Perhaps they were an augury of Japan’s nuclear industry. I’m sure somewhere there’s an original text that reads, “In the Land of the Melting Sun.”
Here’s the basic pattern: An accident occurs in Japan’s nuclear industry; those in charge fail to deal with it well; people suffer; those in charge lie to the public; finally they admit it and apologize profusely. Then the cycle is repeated.
The latest revelations of leaks from at least one of more than 1,000 storage tanks being used to store radiation-contaminated water at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) are really nothing new; it’s just another in a series of follies being handled in an irresponsible and short-sighted way.
The explosions and meltdowns of three reactors at Tepco’s Fukushima facility in March 2011, leading to massive leaks of radiation, comprised the world’s worst nuclear disaster since a reactor exploded at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the USSR (present-day Ukraine) in April 1986. In the northeastern Tohoku region of Honshu, where the Fukushima plant is located, more than 100,000 people have been forced to evacuate due to high radiation levels and the cleanup will likely take at least 40 years.
Tepco at first blamed the accident on “an unforeseen massive tsunami” triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011. Then it admitted it had in fact foreseen just such a scenario but hadn’t done anything about it.
A Special Diet Commission reporting in July 2012, and other studies, concluded that the earthquake alone probably damaged the cooling system of the Fukushima plant’s 40-year-old Reactor 1 so badly that, even before the tsunami, meltdown was inevitable because it would overheat so much.
However, the words of a top Tepco exec should be of some comfort: “I wish to express regret for the recent cases of misconduct at our company, which eroded public confidence in the nuclear power industry. We will do everything … to prevent similar incidents and to maintain safety. We will promote release of information in order to reassure the general public that we are making sincere efforts, and to convince them that ‘Tepco is trustworthy’ again.”
All very well — but those remarks were made in 2003 by then Tepco Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata after the company admitted to extensive falsifying of safety records for more than a decade. The coverups included dangerous problems in a number of its aging nuclear power plants.
At that time, the entire nuclear industry came under great scrutiny. Reform had come. And just to show lessons had been learned, there were further apologies in 2004, when five workers at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Mihama nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture were scalded to death by steam leaking from a corroded pipe that hadn’t been inspected since 1976. Well, apologies are cheap; safety is expensive.
Read more at Japan’s nuclear comedy just goes on and on