Home > Japan, News Accuracy > Do Japanese newspapers mislead readers on the state of the Fukushima nuclear reactor?

Do Japanese newspapers mislead readers on the state of the Fukushima nuclear reactor?

March 29, 2012

This image from Google Earth illustrates the distance of the town Kawauichi, Fukushima relative to the Daiichi nuclear plant (about 20 km).

Japanese newspapers published a piece on the current state of the Fukushima Daiichi No. 2 reactor on March 28. Japanese newspapers like the Japan Today (AP report), Japan Times and the Asahi discussed the levels of water and the incredibly high levels of radiation in the Fukushima reactor No. 2. “Radiation inside the reactor 2 containment vessel…has reached a lethal 73 sieverts per hour,” reported the Japan Times in the very first sentence (click or article). The Yomiuri, in contrast, did not mention radiation levels, much less the fact that, at those levels, a person would die if exposed to it for just a few seconds (see article). It is hardly secret information. “Tuesday’s examination, with an industrial endoscope, detected radiation levels up to 10 times the fatal dose inside the chamber,” reported the Guardian.

In looking at the articles published on the topic, it becomes immediately clear that there is a disparity between the Japanese and foreign press, with the international media outlets generally taking a more critical approach. “Radiation ‘fatally high’ at Japan reactor,” says the headlines of an AlJazeera report (click for article). “One of Japan’s crippled nuclear reactors still has fatally high radiation levels and much less water to cool it than officials estimated,” reports the Guardian newspaper (click for story). The question, therefore, is not just the water levels (as the Yomiuri would have one believe), but the amount of radiation inside the reactor, and the fact it is fatal to humans. Readers of the Yomiuri article would only know the water levels are low. That can hardly be called accurate reporting, can it?

What the Yomiuri says next stands out, “The discovery of the unexpectedly shallow water level will not affect TEPCO’s judgment that the reactor is in a state of ‘cold shutdown.'” The Guardain says the same, but according to which group of experts? It very well may not affect TEPCO’s or the Japanese government’s judgement on whether the reactor is in a “cold shutdown,” but what credibility do they have? It is widely acknowledged by experts that both covered up the three meltdowns and lied or misled the public for months over there being three meltdowns and the levels of radiation released (See here & here & here). There is an old saying, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” They may be telling the truth this time, but a healthy dose of skepticism is good in cases like this.

The terminology “cold shutdown” means what exactly?  “A nuclear reactor’s coolant system is at atmospheric pressure and the its reactor core is at a temperature below 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius), making it impossible for a chain reaction to take place,” says the Associated Press (click for story). This would mean fission has stopped, which is a positive development, but hardly cause for celebration. “I actually think it’s going to blow up in their face… this is an exaggeration,” said an Arnie Gunderson, a well respected expert on nuclear power in a Bloomberg article (read here).  “Some nuclear scientists say the term doesn’t apply to melted reactors,” says the same Bloomberg report.

“The Japanese authorities have cheated by redefining  ‘cold shutdown’ to suit the situation at Fukushima. Only operating nuclear reactors can be put into a state of “cold shutdown,” said Greenpeace (read here). And it is not just the environmentalists who take this position. Consider what Tadashi Narabayashi, a nuclear engineering professor told Bloomberg, “Achieving cold shutdown does not change the condition of the reactors.” Changing the definitions of words, exaggerating and having respected experts and organisations questioning the use of the phrase “cold shutdown” does not inspire confidence. Even the Japan Times said, “But many skeptics believe the declaration is little more than political grandstanding.” The Japan Times is a Japanese source, and in this instance reported correctly (as cited by NPR).

There is more that the Yomiuri article does not cover: the overall stability of the plant. The “internal examination…renews doubts about the plant’s stability,” says the Guardian. “The latest findings renew doubt about the Fukushima Daiichi plant’s stability,” says AlJazeera. This is potentially very serious. After all, the town of Kawauchi in Fukushima “will reopen facilities such as a nursery, elementary and junior high schools, and a village-run clinic in April,” reported the Mainichi newspaper (click for story). This means exposing children to radiation levels 6 to 20 times higher than recommended does (NRC says 3mSv per year whilst international standards say 1mSv); add to this the fact that these people will be near a plant whose stability some experts are questioning. It is true the Japanese government and TEPCO say it is “stabilised,” but “experts have questioned its vulnerability,” says the Guardian regarding concerns about future earthquakes and tsnuamis.

Would you trust the Japanese government and TEPCO and send your children to school nearby in already high radiation just 20 km away from a plant that is still giving off radiation? Taking into account that the NRC’s guidelines take into effect naturally occurring radiation from the sun and radon, as well as medical doses. Is this the same as discussing exposure to caesium-137 or possible exposure to plutonium, which has been found at distances much greater away than the town? Some might say this is comparing apples to oranges, and that exposure to nuclear waste is far more hazardous.

Too Soon

Is it too early to discuss the stability of these reactors? Quite possibly, though it is clear the Japanese government and TEPCO are happy to do so. “The other two reactors that had meltdowns could be in even worse shape. The number 2 reactor is the only one officials have been able to closely examine so far,” reported AlJazeera. How can a plant whose two other reactors (no. 1 and No. 3), which cannot be inspected for damage due to high levels of radiation, be “stable”? The government does not actually know the state of the other reactors.  Is it not premature to call any of them “stable”?

The “accident phase” is now over, claims the Japanese Prime Minister, now that it is has achieved a “cold shutdown” – according to the new Japanese definition. Even if one accepts that, then why is nuclear waste streaming out of the plant like a river? The Japan Today reported that 120 tonnes of water leaked out of the reactor (the word “leak” gives the impression of a few drops, but 120 tonnes is more like a geyser). Of these 120 tonnes, “80 liters escap[ed] into the ocean.” So apparently a “stable” nuclear power plant “leaks” 120 tonnes of water, some of which goes into the ocean – just this week alone. What about the enormous “leaks” from 2011? (see Reuters coverage) The water round the nuclear plant is some of the most polluted on the planet.

A simple analogy. Would a car’s petrol tank be considered “stable” if 1/2, 1/4 or even 1/10 “leaked” out? Nobody in her right mind drive that car, for it would be at serious risk of explosion. But a nuclear power plant? Sure, “leaks” do not matter, even if they are in volumes much greater than the reactor can hold. This is the sort of doublespeak Orwell wrote about. A nuclear power plant, which is an utter wreck constantly giving off radiation, is “stable.” Then what does an unstable nuclear power plant look like?

It also appears that the 40-year decommissioning process will probably not be affected, according to the Japan Times. How long does it usually take to decommission a “stable” nuclear power plant? 40 years? Not even close. Three Mile Island disaster took over 10 years to wrap up (see here).  The Yomiuri does not address this, whilst the Guardian says the technology needed to decommission the plant has not yet been invented (“developed” is its term). It is interesting how that  “experts” can claim to know when decommissioning will be completed, being that the technology required to remove the spent fuel does not even exist. Who believes this stuff?

The Yomiuri’s article is by no means unique. It follows in a long line of articles they have produced since March 11, 2011. They more or less are an unofficial parrot of TEPCO and the government. Maybe one day they will get round to discovering there is a high level of radiation in the No. 2 reactor.

Civis Journal

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  1. flyingcuttlefish
    March 29, 2012 at 12:11

    Often energy company CEOs sit on the board of directors of large media companies. The relationships aren’t accidental. Not just in Japan but wherever nuclear energy is promoted.
    Fukushima Diary has an item that shows how the pressure works –
    “Rebelled NHK announcer purged”
    http://fukushima-diary.com/2012/03/rebelled-nhk-announcer-purged/

  2. April 9, 2012 at 11:15

    As the National Japan Headlines Examiner, I really appreciate the detail in your articles on this blog. Perhaps we can collaborate sometime on a project. I look forward to more of your blog posts ~~ and I want to say “Thank You” for taking time to like my Japanese language-learning blog! I am using it to help myself review more efficiently and to share with others.

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