Lingering Problems At Fukushima Raise Questions About Nuclear Power Safety At Home

JESSICA DESVARIEUX: Welcome to The Real News
Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. It’s been nearly three years since a massive
earthquake hit Japan on March 11, triggering a tsunami, which led to one of the worst nuclear
disasters of all time. On Monday, the Japanese government also announced that it will allow
some residents to return to Fukushima, despite the news that there’s been another leak of
contaminated water at the Fukushima Power Plant. Many questions have remained unanswered
about the Fukushima disaster, like if it was preventable and if we should be concerned
about other nuclear facilities in the U.S. and worldwide. Some of these questions are
answered in the recently published book titled Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster. With us to discuss this exposé are the book’s
authors. We have David Lochbaum. He’s the director
of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Nuclear Safety Project. He worked at U.S. nuclear
plants for 17 years and was a reactor technology instructor for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Also joining us is Susan Stranahan. She was
the lead reporter of The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Three
Mile Island accident. Thank you both for joining us. SUSAN STRANAHAN: Thanks very much. DAVID LOCHBAUM: Thank you, Jessica. DESVARIEUX: So your book goes into great detail
about what happened at Fukushima. David, I’m going to start out with you, because from
a regulator’s point of view, do you see this being avoided in the first place? And if so,
how? LOCHBAUM: Yes, Fukushima was designed and
operated like plants in the United States were. They were designed looking backwards
at what has been the worst earthquake, what’s been the worst snowstorm, what’s been the
worst hurricane, etc., and then was designed to pretty much be protected against what’s
happened in the past. So if something in the future exceeds events that have happened in
the past, the plant may or may not be protected against those. Fukushima was not protected
against what it faced that day. Had any of our plants been challenged in that
same way, they all would have failed in maybe a little bit longer or a little bit less time,
but none of them were invulnerable to that type of challenge. What we think the accident showed or demonstrated
was that you can’t assume an accident’s only going to be so big and not going to be any
larger. Whenever you draw a line at some barrier, like an x foot tall wall or a so-many feet
thick concrete, you need to ask yourselves and answer: what if it’s greater than that?
You’ve got to have a plan B available and not just rely on miracles to save the day. DESVARIEUX: Okay. And I want to give our audience
a sense of what it’s like in Japan in terms of their nuclear facilities. Only two of Japan’s
50 nuclear facilities are currently operating, and Japanese commercial nuclear operators
are saying that they are implementing new safety standards and should be allowed to
reopen due to the much needed energy supply. David, from your perspective, should they
be allowed to restart? LOCHBAUM: If the fixes that are being implemented
will ensure that you’re protected against things and you don’t have to rely on miracles,
then the plants could be safely restarted and the risks appropriately managed. If all
you’re doing is pasting Band-Aids over problems, building taller seawalls (because that’s what
failed at Fukushima), then that short-sightedness will set the stage for disasters tomorrow. DESVARIEUX: And, Susan, you covered the Three
Mile Island disaster, and it’s considered to be the worst U.S. nuclear disaster. Were
there changes to safety regulations implemented in the U.S. after that occurred? STRANAHAN: There were some, but they weren’t
adequate. Nor did they address what is the fundamental safety issue that remains, and
that is the mindset that prevails both among regulators and the nuclear industry that nuclear
power already is so safe that we don’t have to plan for the unexpected. In other words,
we can say that an accident will only entail this, and that the chance of anything worse
than that is so low we don’t need to prepare for it. That was largely a problem at Three
Mile Island and definitely a problem at Fukushima. DESVARIEUX: Okay. And, David, in your opinion,
do you see–I mean, right now we have the U.S. government just promise $8.3 billion
loan to guarantee to help the Southern Company build two nuclear reactors in Georgia. Do
you think that current regulations safeguard against a Fukushima-style disaster here in
the U.S.? And can you speak to specifics? LOCHBAUM: Yeah, there are a lot of safety
regulation shortcomings that we think need to be rectified to provide a solid foundation
for the existing nuclear power plants and any new nuclear power plants we build in the
United States. For example, half of the reactors operating today in the United States do not
meet the NRC’s fire protection regulations, even though the fire hazard represents the
same threat of reactor core meltdown as all other threats combined. And that’s when you
meet the regulations. In addition, about a third of the reactors in the United States
aren’t protected against flooding if an upstream dam were to fail. So another 25, 27 reactors
are not protected against earthquake hazards. And we’ve known this for years, and we’ve
tolerated that rather than fixing it. The proper foundation for nuclear power new
and existing would be a nuclear regulator that enforces federal safety regulations,
rather than in just setting them and watching plants live well beneath them year after year. DESVARIEUX: I’m listening to both of you,
and it sounds very interesting. It seems very credible. I mean, both of you have experience
in this field. So I want to understand the interests, though, at play here. Susan, maybe you can speak to this a bit.
What sort of interests do we have here? What are the competing interests? Why aren’t we
seeing more regulation? STRANAHAN: Well, I think that part of it is,
as we’ve said, it’s the belief–we call it the myth of safety that has become the mantra
of both the industry and regulators, that everything is safe, we don’t need to make
it safer. And of course with every safety improvement comes increased cost for the operators.
And the operators have consistently been able to make the case that reactors are so safe
we don’t need to spend the extra dollars to make safety improvements. And we say in the book, if TEPCO, the owners
of Fukushima, went out and asked the people of Japan today whether they should have invested
a couple of million dollars to make a certain safety improvement but that they did not because
it cost too much, you can bet that the Japanese people would say they should have spent the
money instead of the multiple billions of dollars of damage that the country has sustained. DESVARIEUX: David, what’s your take? What
interests are behind the scenes, really pulling the strings here? LOCHBAUM: Well, the nuclear industry is a
very large contributor to political committees. They fund Republicans and the Democrats quite
a bit. Plus there’s a lot of jobs at stake. If nuclear power plants were to shut down
because of economics, most of these are located in remote communities where that’s the biggest
job farm in town. So it’s difficult to lose the jobs or risk the jobs, to have the task
revenues done. But as you mentioned earlier, all but two
of the plants in Japan were shut down as a result of the Fukushima accident. So, basically,
the 20 percent of our electricity which is generated by nuclear power is being gambled
on none of the plants having an accident. That’s a huge gamble, both economically and
from a safety standpoint. And fixing some of these problems is relatively cheap insurance
against those kind of bad days. DESVARIEUX: Alright. David Lochbaum, thank
you so much for joining us. LOCHBAUM: Thank you, Jessica. DESVARIEUX: And Susan Stranahan, thank you
so much for joining us. STRANAHAN: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure. DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on
The Real News Network.

9 thoughts on “Lingering Problems At Fukushima Raise Questions About Nuclear Power Safety At Home

  1. I think Mr. Lochbaum is talking about the flaw in this now-lauded use of PRA, Probabilistic Risk Assessment, to evaluate accident risk when he says the nuclear engineers have always looked BACKWARD for hazardous events and designed the nuclear plants accordingly.

  2. nuclear power is expensive, subsidized,dirty,dangerous,corrupting,morally hazardous,violates human rights,erodes democracy…all this is not just a risk, it's reality and accidents are the bonus

  3. So basically to sum this report up, the companies and whoever else are funding these plants are ignorant fucks who are afraid to spend money and don't give damn about continual safety. Got it.

  4. Here's what I don't understand…do these so called leaders (government) won't get affected, and there families, by this ominous tragedy? Or maybe there's sometime of immunizations? whatever it maybe only…

  5. ▶ Lingering Problems At #Fukushima Raise Questions About Nuclear Power Safety at Home:  ~Pub Feb 27, 2014

  6. Fuku was sabotage, so it does not matter how you build the useless damn things. Stuxnet, man-made Earthquake (that was NOT an 8 or 9), bomb in reactor 4. If Real News does not address this, then you are shill bastards like everyone else.

  7. Look at the voting records of your rep's in Washington and vote so as to rid us of these pigs that put money and power above the safety of the country and it's people…RESEARCH….ASK QUESTIONS…..VOTE!

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