Uncomfortable Questions in the Wake of Nuclear Accidents at Fukushima and Chernobyl via Japan Focus

Anders Pape Møller and Timothy A. Mousseau

Twenty nuclear accidents at the official International Nuclear Event Scale of 4 to 7 have occurred between 1952 and 2011 (Lelieveld et al. 2012). The risk of another major accident during the next 50 years is high and it has been estimated that some 30 million people could be directly affected by such an accident (Lelieveld et al. 2012). The highest risks occur around major metropolises such as New York, Washington, Atlanta, Toronto, Western Europe, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Tokyo and Osaka. The lessons that have emerged from Chernobyl and Fukushima reveal a range of serious questions that must be answered appropriately, above all for the sake of citizens, but also for the credibility of the nuclear industry, and for framing the ongoing debate over energy alternatives. Because recent models suggest that more than half of released radioactive material from a nuclear disaster would be transported more than 1000 km from the site of release (Lelieveld et al. 2012), these questions are important even for citizens in distant countries. It is in this spirit that we have produced a list of unpleasant questions that have been a cause of concern since we first started conducting research at Chernobyl in 1992, and have grown in urgency since conducting research at Fukushima beginning in 2011.

Question 1: Why are nuclear reactorsfrequently clustered making problems much greater in case of emergencies? How to get to the other reactors if one melts down completely? Nuclear reactors are clustered with pairs, quadruplets or even planned clusters with six reactors located at a single site.[…]
Question 2: Why are many reactors built on tectonic fault lines, making them highly susceptible to effects of earthquakes?[…]
Question 3: Why were the back-up generators at the Fukushima Daiichi NPP located below ground level so they could be reached directly by seawater, causing malfunction and thereby preventing cooling of the reactors? […]
Question 4: Why are used fuel rods from the nuclear reactors stored at the reactor site, preventing cooling in a case of emergency, thereby compromising security? […]
Question 5: Why did the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) approve nuclear reactors with such poor locations and poorly designed emergency generators? […]
Question 6: Why were pregnant women and children not evacuated earlier and for longer distances to avoid the well-known problems of effects of radiation on early development?[…]
Question 7: Why were Japanese people evacuated from an area with a radius of 30 km, when French and US citizens were advised to stay 50 km away, and airplanes owned by Air France, Alitalia and Lufthansa were re-directed from Tokyo to Osaka? […]
Question 8: Why was the level of radioactivity in Fukushima said by the Japanese prime minister to be low, when in fact it was, and continues to be, higher than the most contaminated areas around Chernobyl, from where people are still evacuated 27 years after that accident? […]
Question 9: Why did the chairman of the IAEA (a Japanese) first travel to Japan four days after the first accident happened in Fukushima? […]
Question 10: Why is Tokyo Electric (Tepco) unwilling to provide information about the identity of the rescue workers and their radiation exposure?

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