April 13, 2013

Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) comprise the rhetorical foundation of the world’s antinuclear persuasion. Use of FUD ran rampant in the popular Press of Japan for nearly two years after a massive tsunami caused the Fukushima accident. The politicians of the then-in-power Democratic Party of Japan catered the antinuclear Press to a fault, and they paid dearly for it. The DPJ was roundly defeated by the Liberal Democratic Party in December.  After the new regime swept into office, the Press seemed to ease their admitted antinuclear bias and move toward a more objective stance. However, the discovery of three leaking waste water reservoirs at Fukushima Daiichi has brought the Press’ use of FUD back with a vengeance. It has also provided some “experts” in Tokyo with the ammunition to attack the new Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) as being a “rubber stamp” for the nuclear utilities.

Actually, the fear aspect began to re-emerge last month when a rat invaded a temporary electrical panel outside F. Daiichi’s new auxiliary power distribution building. The animal cause a power loss and cooling systems for three spent fuel pools were knocked out of service; one of them for about 30 hours. It made no difference that none of the pools would have approached their technical limit for operation (65oC) for at least two weeks. It made no difference that the worst-case SFP accident scenario would take many months before it could have happened. The Press exploited the opportunity by running catastrophic what-if scenarios and posting impossible speculations as unquestionable fact. The term “makeshift” constantly used to identify the temporary electrical supply technology for the SFPs. The message was clear. Nuclear catastrophe was imminent at any given moment because the technology being used at F. Daiichi to cool the SFP’s is crude and primitive.

The Press’ use of fear amplified this week due to three water reservoir leaks. It didn’t matter that the vast majority of the 120 tons that leaked from the first pool was contained between the sheets of the triple-layer water-proof pool liner. It didn’t matter that a total of three liters of the stuff made it through the absorbent “special earth” surrounding the reservoir’s walls, greatly stripped of its isotopes in the process. It didn’t matter that the total radioactive concentration in the three expunged liters was five times less radioactive than Brazil nuts. It didn’t matter that there was no danger of contaminating the sea. It didn’t matter that the groundwater samples taken at F. Daiichi show no detectable radioactive isotopes. All that mattered were leaks out of reservoirs holding radioactive waste waters. The Press was clearly exploiting the public’s fear of radiation, or more correctly the mere possibility of radiation.

In order to exploit uncertainty and doubt, the Japanese press used the leaks as proof that (1) the Tokyo Electric Company is using nothing but “rickety” technology which is prone to failure, (2) Tepco is unable to prevent radiation leaks, (3) the NRA cannot be trusted to stop the allegedly on-going accident, and (4) the Fukushima accident has not ended yet. The first two foment uncertainty, and the last two provoke doubt.

The technology being used by Tepco is being trumpeted to evoke a general feeling of uncertainty. Allegedly, one cannot be sure that the equipment being used by Tepco to cool the reactors and SFPs will work well enough to keep from experiencing another large radiological release. Probably the most overt example is The Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s second largest newspaper, which had this to say, “Radiation monitors and other devices have repeatedly broken down. Human error remains a constant problem. And the troubles plaguing the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant reached farcical levels when a rat caused a blackout and subsequent work to prevent a recurrence led to another system failure…Such problems continue because the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., is still using temporary equipment and makeshift facilities…TEPCO has delayed replacing the temporary equipment and rickety facilities because it has underestimated the precarious conditions of the Fukushima No. 1 plant.” (April 8) Makeshift? Rickety? What makes the news media think they know enough to be judge and jury? Frankly, I doubt they know the difference between neutrons and ping-pong balls! Regardless, malicious allegations are posted by the Press to make it seem as if Tepco is either stupid or, worse yet, doesn’t really care.

Japan Times reports that the Nuclear Regulatory Authority has also taken up the uncertainty banner. (4/11/13) The paper quotes NRA chair Shunichi Tanaka as saying, “Fukushima Daiichi is still in an extremely unstable condition, there is no mistake about that. We cannot rule out the possibility that similar problems might occur again. The contaminated water situation is on the verge of collapse.” Not to be outdone, The Mainichi Shimbun asserts, “The nuclear crisis is far from over. There is a limit to what the patchwork operation can do on a jury-rigged (sic) system.” Clearly, the Press says there is nothing about the Fukushima situation that anyone can count on. The only certainty is uncertainty, and with the possibility of radiation releases, that’s just not good enough.

Next, there’s the use of doubt. Since 3/11/11, Tepco has been under the microscope of suspicion, but now doubt is being used to challenge the efficacy of Japan’s NRA. Headlines like the Mainichi Shimbun’s “NAIIC says NRA inadequate” lead the assault. Nine members of the Diet’s Fukushima investigative committee (NAIIC) told Japan’s Parliament they have no faith in the NRA, and call for a formal congressional takeover. It started with former NAIIC chair Kiyoshi Korokawa telling the Diet, “Obviously, the crisis is not yet under control.” He was followed by eight other panel members who began pointing fingers of doubt at the NRA and Tepco. Lawyer Shuya Nomura told the Diet to actively get involved in bringing F. Daiichi under control and explained, “Is it all right to leave the response to contaminated water and other problems to the discretion of Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the executive branch of the government? As representatives of the people, Diet members should have expertise and get involved in the response with the mindset of the general public.” Since when do career bureaucrats have the expertise to get involved in a scientific/technological situation? They don’t. Period!

It didn’t take long for other news outlets to post the scathing judgments from other former NAIIC members. Antinuclear whistleblower Mitsuhiko Tanaka said the NRA gives carte-blanche approval to plans submitted by Tepco, “They make a risk assessment, submit their plans to the government and they’re approved. It’s the same old routine. The new regulation standards will be toothless unless the causes of the accident are brought to light. We ask the Diet to inspect the site on its own.” (Japan Today) Seismologist Katsuhiko Ishibashi said, “We cannot say the world’s top-class safety measures will be in place (as the NRA claimed).” (Asahi Shimbun)

How did the NRA respond? Commissioner Toyoshi Fuketa said the recent water leaks pose a threat to Tepco’s water management program, but probably not to the environment. He questioned TEPCO’s risk evaluation of the cisterns’, but acknowledged that regulators must allow TEPCO to use the remaining underground tanks for now, “Although we need more long-term plans, we have to tackle the most immediate problem first.” (Japan Today) Fuketa’s rational words come at the very end of the few news reports to have have quoted him.

When the new regime under PM Shinzo Abe came to power, some of the Japanese news outlets relaxed their Fukushima fixation. But, the brief SFP power loss and the totally contained water leaks in the F. Daiichi waste water reservoirs have reinvigorated the antinuclear Japanese Press. Even the historically nuclear-neutral Japan News (nee, Yomiuri Shimbun) has joined the fray by reporting Tepco has underestimated the potential radiological risk of the reservoir leakage 50-fold! The News posted, “The impact of the leak could also be much bigger than Tepco’s estimate” when they guesstimated a worst-case release of 35 trillion Becquerels.  It doesn’t matter that this incomprehensible number assumes every drop of water now in cistern storage would have to be lost to the environment. It doesn’t matter that big numbers scare people when applied to anything nuclear. It’s scary, fosters uncertainty and engenders doubt. Whether or not the assumption is reasonable makes no difference.

The bottom line is this. It doesn’t matter that none of the fuel bundles in the F. Daiichi SFPs were ever in danger of damage and a radiological release. It doesn’t matter that all of the water leaking from the waste reservoirs is being collected and returned to the cisterns. It doesn’t matter than the groundwater flowing beneath F. Daiichi has not been contaminated. It doesn’t matter than a waste water release to the ocean is not going to happen. FUD sells, and the Japanese Press unquestionably believes they are doing the right thing because they are dealing with the possibility of radiation!