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Japanese Try to Stop Free Speech in New York

May 11, 2012 Comments off

Survivor Gil Won Ok was one of the up to 200,000 women who suffered at the hands of the Japanese army, and continue to suffer by the Japanese refusal to deal with its war crimes. The Japanese cited in this article take the position that she and others are lying, a position for which there is no evidence. Source: Amnesty International.

The New York Times owned company, the International Herald Tribune, posted a recent story called Comfort Women Controversy Comes to New York (see here). There are two issues at play here. The first is the Japanese denial of the use of forced sexual slavery by the Japanese army in WWII. The second is the right of Koreans – or any other – to protest those actions by using a memorial as a symbol of free speech. Its reporting calls into question its commitment to objectivity.

It is historical fact that the Japanese armies not only forced Korean, Filipino and Chinese women to have sex with Japanese soldiers, but that the Japanese in some cases executed the female victims after being raped repeatedly by upwards of dozens of soldiers – sometimes in just one day. The number of female sex slaves may be disputed, but the actions of the Japanese are not – except by apologists. The number of victims is as high as 200,000, and “the majority of women were under the age of 20 and some were girls as young as 12,” said Amnesty International, a human rights organisation that has written about this problem in the past. These were horrendous crimes by any standard (see here).

The IHT gave voice to a war crimes denier when it published the following words without comment: ““the term ‘comfort women’ refers simply to prostitutes in wartime.” This sort of slander by the Japanese supporter not only denies the Japanese atrocities, but actually calls them “prostitutes,” saying it was they and not the Japanese who sought sex. There may have been a small number of real prostitutes, but to claim the majority or even all the Koreans willing had sex with hundreds of Japanese men for money is a gross misrepresentation of the facts.

Those who posit that all of the comfort women were happily complicit and acting of their own accord simply do not understand the meaning of the word rape,” said Tom Lantos to the BBC in an article published in 2007, then chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Rape is rape. Not according to certain deniers in Japan who are trying to force their warped view of history on Americans with their nonsense propaganda. Why did the IHT not address the historical denials properly? The BBC did in a 2007 article, and it was not alone (see here).

The IHT went further when its article appeared to misrepresent the facts surrounding the Japanese apology: “while Japan has apologized for any mistreatment the women suffered…” What apology? One can understand (but not excuse) why the Japanese have historical amnesia, but the IHT? Even as late as 2007 the US House of Representatives passed a resolution asking for the Japanese to issue a formal apology for its war crimes it committed against up to 200,000 civilian women and girls. There has been a lot of pressure to get Japan to admit to and really apologise for its crimes.

One is at a loss to know what apology the IHT referred to. Perhaps it alluded to the 1993 apology that only acknowledged “its involvement managing the brothels” butwas never approved by parliament.” Some apology that was. Or perhaps it referred to the words of former prime ministers. If so it is nothing more than a word game of “regrettable” or “sympathy” or other comments that never acknowledged Japan’s full role in the sex slavery business or its legal responsibility to the victims (see here). Such word games only insult the victims and create resentment against the Japanese, but they explain why there are still protests to this day, almost 70 years after the end of the war.

“A 1998 report by the U.N. Human Rights Committee on this issue noted that although Japan has made individual apologies the Japanese Government denies legal liability for the creation and maintenance of the system of ‘comfort stations’ and comfort women used during World War II,” said Amnesty (see here). That was in 2009. Women are still waiting for a real apology that accepts legal responsibility. Japan has no intention of doing it. Instead Japan has rejected most compensation claims, saying they were settled by treaties.” The victims do not agree the matter was settled at all. These women want justice.

The IHT article barely touched on the dwindling number of women, now in the eighties, hoping to receive a real apology before they die. The IHT said: “In December, two Korean women who said they were forced into prostitution by Japan visited the monument” (my emphasis). Look at the wording. Could not the IHT verify if the women were telling the truth? Yes, they “said” they had been raped by Japanese soldiers, but is there any reason to doubt their claims? There are ways to verify the women’s claims, as there are lists of survivors.

What the IHT also did, interestingly enough, was to say: “One Japanese opponent of the proposed New York monument wrote in a letter… (my emphasis).” Yes, the Korean women “said” (possibly implying they were not telling the truth) and the Japanese man “wrote” the women were “prostitutes” (which could be construed to say the IHT questioned his claims, but could also be read to say they did not). Why are the two being given equal weight sort of balanced against each other? This is a cut and dry case. The Japanese systemically used hundreds of thousands of women as sex slaves. The surviving Koreans are not all unknown. The IHT has the resources to assign a reporter to know if the women it interviewed were victims , does it not?

At least 63 Korea survivors were alive in January 2012, and of that number 2 – named  Gil Won-ok and Kim Bok-dong – demonstrate outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul as often as they can to demand recognition for the crimes the Japanese committed against them (see article here). The Korean Times was able to verify those women had been raped, for it stated: “The two were among 63 surviving Korean women who were forced into sexual servitude at frontline Japanese brothels during World War II” (my emphasis). “Who were forced” does not imply the women’s story lacks accuracy. The Korean Times did its job. Why could the IHT not state definitively if the women it interviewed were really victims or not?

Is this just lazy reporting on the IHT’s part of something more sinister? Well, the IHT chose to publish the comments of a Japanese who considers the victims “prostitutes” – a direct quote. The Japanese man in entitled to his opinion, but  it was not qualified. Can the IHT editors really claim this article is objective reporting?

To the question of free speech. Just as the Japanese have decided to hide their war guilt by denying and covering over the facts (which is protected by free speech), Koreans in New York are choosing to highlight the past by taking advantage of free speech to tell the truth by renaming a street sign that acknowledges the suffering of female victims of Japanese aggression. Why would anyone in Japan protest this? The Japanese routinely deny their crimes against all the Asian nations they conquered; it is nothing new.

The Japanese writer claimed Peter Koo, New York City Councilman, was misrepresenting the facts about Japan just to be reelected. Regardless of his or the other council members reasons for wanting a new memorial in New York, it ignores the fact there are Koreans and Chinese (Koo is from Hong Kong, not Korea) who want the truth to be told, and that there are Japanese who are actively trying to stop Americans right to free speech. The IHT article essentially said four officials in the Japanese LDP party tried to  bribe the Koreans into shutting their mouths. They offered “to fund youth programs, donate books on Japanese culture and plant cherry blossom trees in the town, if the [current] monument were removed [from Palisades Park, N.J.]”

These Japanese – and not all Japanese deny the historical facts; there are some brave filmmakers, historians and politicians who do speak the truth – want to remove the current monument and prevent a new one from being installed. If German Holocaust deniers protested Holocaust memorials and demanded German propaganda in its place, how would the IHT report on that? The IHT would no doubt denounce them for what they are. No one is saying the Korean sex slavery was the same as the German crimes, but the point is that it shows how extreme these Japanese are. Why did the IHT not directly call a spade a spade on these Japanese?

And extreme is not sufficiently strong to express the Japanese position. These four officials denied historical fact by saying “there is no proof sex slaves existed” and claimed the monument “portrayed historical inaccuracies.” How is the monument inaccurate? One could be sure those “youth programs” would do absolutely nothing to expose the truth about Japanese war crimes, and might serve as a propaganda tool similar to what is used in Japanese schools to erase the past. A monument to victims of Japanese aggression would become a direct insult to them. Can anyone wonder why the Chinese and Koreans protest the Japanese every time they play games with their “apologies?” This is some mystery the American newspapers might get around to solving one day.

One might remember how often the Japanese demand an apology from the US over the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were unique and terrible atrocities for which US should consider apologising. But it is not a little bit hypocritical to ask for an apology and be, at the same time, unable to give one for the millions of victims of Japan’s wars of aggression in which historians, including Herbert Bix, a Harvard, Pulitzer prize winning historian, put a conservative estimate of the numbers of Chinese murdered (civilians) by the Japanese Imperial Army at between 10 to 13 million.The message is clear: Japan is special and should be treated differently.

The women cited in this article are not liars and have nothing to gain by standing outside and protesting for decades. The Japanese have something to gain, and it has to do with saving face and money. Why do newspapers like IHT not call the Japanese Holocaust deniers out for what they are? Might it be thery are cowards? There is evidence to suggest this is the case, a question which will be considered in part II.

Civis Journal

Daily News article on topic here

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Article on Fukushima contains factual errors

April 6, 2012 Comments off

Figure 1. This map shows the areas struck by the March 11 earthquake. As the map shows, the areas not close to Sendai did not experience the same magnitude shocks.

The Wall Street Journal published an opinion article in support of nuclear power that has problems with accuracy. This article will identify and analyse some of these errors in an attempt to evaluate the article’s objectivity. As with most opinion pieces, they are not held up to the same standards a professional journalist would adhere to in publishing an article. However, some comment is warranted due to its subject matter, audience and nature of the errors.

“Japan has taken all of its 54 reactors out of service,” wrote William Tucker in his March 6 article entitled “Fukushima and the Future of Nuclear Power.” On March 6, however, there were at least two reactors online: the No. 6 reactor at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa (operated by TEPCO) and the No. 3 at the Tomari plant (operated by Hokkaido Electric Power Co). The Tomari reactor is still running and is scheduled to go offline in May. Barring the restart of other reactors,  there be no commercial reactors running in Japan. Therefore, it  incorrect to say that “Japan has taken all of its 54 reactors out of service.” Even a casual search on the internet shows this to be the case (see stats on plants here).

All 54 of Japan’s reactors absorbed an earthquake of 9.0 on the Richter scale—the biggest in Japan’s recorded history” (my emphasis). First, Fukushima is located on the main island of Honshu, and is one of the few areas that registered a 9.0 earthquake. Much of the damage occurred near the eastern coastline (near Sendai). Whilst it is true that some felt earthquakes in other areas -like Tokyo – they were of a lower magnitude, not 9.0. In fact, many people in Japan felt nothing at all on March 11. Kyushu, which is home to several reactors, did not experience a 9.0 earthquake, according to USGS data. Many of the residents knew nothing of the earthquakes and subsequent aftershocks to the northeast until they saw the news reports after the fact.

Only the few reddish areas listed on the map had a 9.0 earthquake. The rest affected by the earthquake showed a much lower reading on the scale. The map shows that most of Honshu experienced figures of 3.0 to 6.0 (see figure 1 or the original USGS data here). Moreover, the majority of Japan’s nuclear reactor are not located in the Tohoku area, and could not have experienced 9.0 earthquakes, as a quick look at the geography makes clear. Thus the statement that All 54 of Japan’s reactors absorbed an earthquake of 9.0″ is directly contradicted by the USGS data. Mr. Tucker’s argument claims that the 54 reactors were tested at levels above their design capacity and had no damage (as he states here: “Though the shock exceeded design specifications, the steel reactor vessels and concrete containment structures remained intact.”), which would indicate earthquakes pose no threat to the plants. However, the nuclear plants were never tested at withstand a 9.0 earthquake on March 11 because they were not in the areas where the 9.0 earthquake struck, as demonstrated. Those in Fukushima that were hit by the earthquake were completely incapacitated. Whilst it is not publicly known exactly how much damage the earthquake did to the reactors, there is the possibility it played a role in the coolant failings or caused other damage (see here). Mr. Tucker blames all the damage on the tsunami, which is speculation at best but a talking point by the pro-nuclear crowd. His point that all the nuclear plants can withstood Japan’s largest recorded earthquake has no basis in fact.

One problem with his writing is ambiguity. It is often not clear what exactly he is referring to. There is the possibility the article says that their containment vessels (reactors outside of Fukushima) and concrete structures remained intact; if so then he would be correct in that they were not heavily damaged (if at all). But that would prove nothing. As established, those reactors outside of Fukushima did not experience a 9.0 earthquake. If the writer is referring to the Fukushima Daiichi plant, then there is a problem. First, the radiation levels are so high that humans cannot inspect the Fukushima reactors in person and live. At some 72 sieverts for the No. 2 reactor, only a scope is capable of looking in it briefly. This “is the only one that has been examined,” says Al Jazeera. “The exact conditions of the other two reactors, where hydrogen explosions damaged their buildings, are still unknown” (read the data here). Even before the scope test, “plant officials previously said more than half of the melted fuel had breached the core and dropped to the floor of the primary containment vessel, some of it splashing against the wall or the floor.” Did the reactor vessels at the Fukushima Daiichi plant remain intact? How about the concrete structures? Whilst questions remain on the state of the melt through at those reactors, there is no question that at least the outer concrete structures were blown off and completely destroyed in highly televised explosions, which needs no repetition here. That structure obviously did not withstand the effects of the earthquake and tsunami.

Figure 2. This image, From NTV Japan, shows an explosion that wrecked the outer building. See the Telegraph for additional photos here.

If the  writer is referring to the concrete inside the buildings, then there is a problem as well. In June 2011 the Telegraph reported that the fuel at the reactors “has melted through the base of the pressure vessels and is pooling in the outer containment vessels” (see here). In December 2011, the Guardian analysed a  TEPCO report that “said the concrete ‘could have been penetrated'” (see here). Mr. Tucker may be correct in his claim that the fuel itself has not escaped through the last layers of defence, but it would appear that is dangerously close to doing just that. The Daily Kos printed TECPCO’s Matsumoto’s words in a meeting with NISA: “In addition, the simulation suggests that the fuel bored more than two feet into the concrete, Mr. Matsumoto said” (their emphasis, see report here). All of this – whilst not insignificant – is a sideshow that distracts from the main point: the untold the amount/types of radiation released and the effects they will have on the environment and its inhabitants. Concrete and vessel intact or not, there was a large release of radiation and the measures in place at the plant failed to prevent this.

Third, it is true that the March 11 earthquake was “the biggest in Japan’s recorded history,” but there were larger earthquakes elsewhere. The largest recorded one took places in Chile in 1960, which was a 9,5 (see here). Though the article does not claim the March 11 earthquake was the largest of all, it uses a pro-nuclear industry talking point which emphasises that it was one of the largest earthquakes to hit Japan in “recorded history” – note it does not say “in history.” There is a reason for this. The USGS says that “a predecessor may have occurred on July 13, 869, when the Sendai area was swept by a large tsunami that Japanese scientists have identified from written records and a sand sheet” (see here). By using the phrase “recorded history” the writer is knowingly excluding this essential historical precedent for earthquakes on par with the 9.0 one that struck in 2011. This gives the impression the earthquake of 2011 was the largest when there is evidence to suggest otherwise.

What is so interesting about this particular earthquake in 869 is that it appears to be the very same one seismologist Yukinobu Okamura used to warn NISA (Japan’s nuclear safety agency) and TEPCO (Fukushima’s plant operator) that the Fukushima Daiichi plant was inadequately built to withstand a large tsunami triggered by an earthquake; he specifically said an earthquake larger than that of 1938 had occurred in the Sendai area, citing the one of 869. NISA and TEPCO did not want to accept this (TEPCO even disputed it), and did not act on his advice to take precautions that might have prevented damage  To admit large earthquakes at certain magnitude could have occurred would have called into question the plant’s inadequate protections against large earthquakes and tsunamis. Saying the Fukushima plant was not able to withstand a large earthquake or tsunami (as the castle had not been able to in 869, remarked Mr. Okamura) could have meant shutting it or other plants nearby. Mr. Tucker may or may not be aware of the implication of his comment, but his calling the March 11 earthquake the largest in recorded history might leave the casual reader thinking that the Japanese had taken seismologists’ advice seriously and built plants designed to withstand the largest known tsunamis and earthquakes (since larger ones never happened there was no reason to take precautions). Evidence, however, suggests the government and TEPCO ignored expert advice to take necessary precautions as late as 2009 (see here).

Figure 3. This INES chart from the IAEA website shows the 7 stages of nuclear accidents. Fukushima was raised to a level 7 last year, putting it above Three Mile Island (whose reactors did not allow significant releases of radiation into the environment) and on par with Chernobyl, though experts generally agree Chernobyl released more radiation into the environment.

There are other problems. Mr. Tucker says that “the core of three reactors melted down, but that in itself is not a public catastrophe as long as the reactor vessel and containment structure hold.” This is so ridiculous as to not merit comment. Not only, for instance, are three reactor meltdowns a “public catastrophe,” but they in themselves would be grounds to declare a level 5 disaster even if the radiation had not spread all over the place (as was the case with Three Mile Island, 1979). The idea that an intact containment pressure vessel is the criterion by which a “public catastrophe” is measured is not in line with the INES scale guidelines (see here). So extensive is the damage that it might take 40 years to dismantle the reactors; this is just a tentative estimate. The technology needed to do the work does not yet exist. Mr. Tucker’s focus on the source of the radiation (steam, leaks or spent fuel) tries to sidestep the one fact he cannot hide: the massive escape of radiation that will affect the environment and life forms for hundreds of years or more.

Fukushima was raised to a level 7 disaster precisely because it was not a “local” accident. The IAEA’s guidelines for a level 7 disaster include “severe damage to reactor” and “major release: widespread health and environmental effects” (their emphasis see here). Did the March 11 disaster not meet both? Three meltdowns is “severe damage” by any measure (three melt through problems are unprecedented), and “widespread health and environmental effects” is precisely the criterion listed and why the Japanese government had to order the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. One might argue the extent of the health or environmental effects, but Mr. Tucker does not do that. He, instead, denies there are any, claiming that “all the damage has been from depression, despair and even suicide among the 100,000 people who have been evacuated from their homes within a 12-mile radius.” One might interpret this as saying the radiation released is harmless. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is true there have been no recorded deaths attributed to radiation so far, but that is likely to change as nuclear and health experts have pointed out. “I believe we’re going to see as many as a million cancers over the next 30 years because of the Fukushima incident in Japan,” said a respected expert, Arnie Gunderson, in an interview with Democracy Now (see here). Whilst experts disagree with the numbers (some say more and some say less), they do expect there will be some health effects, even if it is still too early to quantify. Mr. Tucker, interestingly, only denies that they have happened so far (he says “has been,” which only refers to the past up to the present). Again, saying that people have not become sick from radiation yet is not the same as saying they will not one day become sick. Many people were exposed to upwards of 20 mSv/yr and others over 100 mSv/yr. The latter have a statistically greater chance of becoming sick in future (which is not controversial). Even Dr. Shinichi Yamashita might have trouble denying that. Some will recall his infamous remarks about 100 mSv/yr being no problem for pregnant women (or up to 100 mSv), and that “the effects of radiation do not come to people who are happy and laughing,” which he later tried to explain away (see an English translational here & report here). Needless to say, his comments caused an uproar particularly among parents, whose children are more vulnerable than adults to radiation (see UNSCR report here). Their parents understand they cannot deal with radiation the way adults do, are more vulnerable to its effects and need greater protections.

Mr. Tucker’s comments could be understood to be part of the Yamashita school of thought, particularly when he claimed that “low radiation doses may immunize the body against cancer and birth defects.” This claim (based on a case in Taiwan in which residents were exposed for years) would seem to be outside the mainstream of scientific thought. There are several ideas in the scientific community, detailed in the NY Times. The first is that radiation up to a certain level will not be harmful (minority). Another view is that cancers increase with low-level exposure (minority). The other view is that “when people are exposed to small doses for decades, the incidence of cancer will rise over time” (see here). The article quotes Dr. Richard Monson who said, “There’s a point beneath which you just don’t know and a straight line is the simplest assumption.” This is what most experts would say, that there are some unknowns until further evidence is published.

The WSJ article, on the other hand, quotes a Berkley researcher, Mina Bissell, who said, “This non-linear DNA damage response casts doubt on the general assumption that any amount of ionizing radiation is harmful and additive.” Bissell is a respected scientist, and neither her work nor report is being called into question. The problem is the way Mr. Tucker uses it. He claims that, based on this, the current “premise that even the smallest exposures to ionizing radiation can be harmful” will continue to be used, leading to major economic damage (“dismembering economies”). His claim is that governments are too protective of their citizens with radiation, and this is unreasonable and destroying economies. He uses Germany and Japan as examples. Aside from the fact he provides no convincing evidence the German and Japanese economies are suffering from a lowered use of nuclear power, he is reducing a complex scientific problem and drawing widespread conclusions that many scientists would not.

For example, the report he cited says: “this comprehensive quantitative analysis challenged the concept of linearity between IR dose and RIF yield and suggests the existence of DNA repair center in human cells.” The study, “Evidence for formation of DNA repair centers and dose-response nonlinearity in human cells,” adds further knowledge an area desperately in need of study, and “casts doubt” (as Bissel said) on current understanding on the effects radiation effects as studied in a model based on Atomic bomb research, which would indicate the need for further study. This is what the Berkley Lab news release says, and is in line with the researchers comments and report. However, calling for a complete dismantling of scientific understanding based on this study, as the WSJ article seems to do, might be considered premature by some (see the Berkley report here & comments here).

More importantly, using the report to claim that exposure to unspecified levels of radiation released from Fukushima poses no health risk is questionable. Bissell’s comment is that those scientists who believe that “any amount of ionizing radiation” could lead to cancers have to reevaluate their views, is not the same as saying exposure of children of up to 20 mSv/yr is harmless, and is something the Japanese government has allowed (or 100 mSv as Dr. Yamashita says). But these are not necessarily low doses of radiation. They are not, for example, equivalent to a simple x-ray or normal background radiation (nor are they even the same types of radiation). They are numbers being compared with what people are normally exposed to (1 to 3 mSv/yr) and what the upper limits of  “occupational radiation exposure to adults working with radioactive material to 5,000 mrem (50 mSv) per year” (see NRC’s guidelines here). In other words, exposing civilians (particularly children) up to 20 mSv/yr is not low dose radiation – particularly if it is done for successive years. They start approaching the limits of what nuclear plant workers can endure legally. Just because workers in the US can be exposed up to 50 mSv/yr does not mean they are. So ten-year-old school children should be exposed to 20 mSv/yr?

The controversy over children’s exposure to radiation took centre stage when special adviser to then Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Toshiso Kosako resigned in protest over the government’s 20 mSv/yr exposure limit to children. A respected expert on radiation and professor at Tokyo University, Kosako made the highly unusual step of resigning publicly, saying that he would not allow his own children to be exposed to those levels of radiation (see here). Though the government subsequently changed its standards to limit children to 1mSv/yr at schools, that does not mean some children will not be exposed to higher rates as soon as they leave the school building. The WSJ ran an article last year in which it examined some of the forecasts Kosako made of radiological contamination that were later confirmed (as with food contamination, see here). This reporting by journalist Yuka Hayashi differs markedly in its approach to these topics from this article by Mr. Tucker. On exposure to radiation Mr. Tucker said, “There’s no evidence that low doses of radiation are harmful and no reason to paralyze our economy out of fear of nuclear power.” One must have a clear understanding of what he considers “low doses” of radiation. 1 mSv/yr is normal, but 20 mSv/yr? None of this even deals with internal caesium, which is a whole different matter.

Figure 4. This USGS intensity map shows the earthquake levels in the majority of Japan.

The article’s claim, as mentioned earlier, that not using nuclear power will “paralyze our economy” contradicts a Pew 2009 report that clean energy (it defines the term and does not include nuclear due to waste) has the potential (assuming more investment and political support) to help the economy (see report here). Nor is it the only report to do so.

The writer supports the economic damage argument in part on “factories [that] have slowed because of power shortages” and an “$18 deficit” as a result of having to purchase oil and natural gas. First, there were decreases of electricity usage in the summer of 2011, but that was in the peak operating time, and the entire nation worked together to avoid blackouts. An unprecedented energy efficiency campaign and adjusted work hours allowed factories to operate, but they had to make some adjustments so as not to overburden the system at peak hour time. This is not what economists would label as able to “paralyze [their] economy,” for it did not. Japan managed to survive the summer of 2011 with energy efficiency, “super cool biz” and hard work. Factories going out of business en masse over this problem did not occur. Economic damage?

Whatever economic problems it has is due largely to debt existing prior to the March 11 disaster. $18 bn deficit or not over the purchase of natural gas to offset nuclear power, the Japanese economy is the world’s third largest and its unemployment is low. Japan actually lowered its unemployment from 5.1 in 2010 to 4.5 in 2011. Neither this, the CPI nor other rubrics will show a lack of nuclear energy caused significant damage to the Japanese economy. There is no evidence in this argument to support the idea that is causing harm to the Japanese economy. It might reduce power companies’ profits, but that is hardly the Japanese economy. This seems more in line of the Republican party’s incessant yelling of deficits in the US, not the Japanese economy as it is today.

As a side point, the writer also claims that the real problem was not earthquakes, but rather “the subsequent 50-foot tsunami [that] wiped out the backup generators at Fukushima.” The Japan Today published an article on March 12, 2012 with the title “Only 2 nuclear plants have sea walls – Fukushima Daiichi, Danini,” citing an Associated Press report (see here). What does that say for all the other reactors without sea walls currently in place the next time a large tsunami comes? All of this comes to light as yet another Japanese nuclear power plant was interrupted by the weather: “The storm temporarily reduced electricity supplies to the Onagawa nuclear power plant, in Miyagi prefecture, halting the cooling system for a fuel pool, operator Tohoku-Electric Power Co said” (see here on April 4). Despite appearance, the Japanese nuclear power plants apparently have little in place to prevent further Fukushima disasters, and the US is far from immune as well. The idea that upgrades ignores another complex problem, that of ageing and obsolete plants still online round the world.

This opinion article in the WSJ makes unsupported assumptions, ambiguous claims and draws widespread sweeping conclusion with insufficient evidence. Other facts are ignored or not addressed at all. This appears to be a pro-nuclear argument for an American audience who do not follow the Fukushima disaster closely or who do not understand the effects of radiation. Its purpose is  to make anti-nuclear protesters look unscientific or irrational – i.e. opposed to nuclear power, not because they might get sick, but because they are ignorant of the facts. This is the conclusion one might draw if one reads this article and is unaware of the facts. It denies the suffering that hundreds of thousands of people right now.

There are farmers whose land is too radioactive to farm. There are whole communities who will never be able to re-inhabit their lands. There are people who were in the path of the radioactive plume, exposed to disconcerting levels of radiation because of government failures or refusals to evacuate or use SPEEDI data. Radioactive food and debris are being sent all over the country. The list goes on, and many in the Fukushima area will get sick (the numbers are disputed, though). These are the real effects of the contamination. This article’s claims are not that different from the Japanese government’s frivolous claim that “baseless rumors” or “harmful rumors” are the real problem. They argue the problem is all in the mind and behaviour of those people, not radiation. People are supposed to believe that.

As Mr. Tucker says, “it might behoove the world to ponder what the dangers of nuclear energy really are.” Unfortunately, one will not arrive at an accurate understanding of those dangers based on the opinion piece published in the WSJ.

Staff Report,

Civis Journal

Problems with this WSJ article are also covered by Ex-SKF (click here), which looks at a different set of problems are not covered here.

The WSJ article can be accessed here with a subscription; for a free reading of it and commentary (click here or here).

Copies to the studies looking at the Taiwan buildings (not discussed here) can be read here and here.

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

March 29, 2012 2 comments

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