Video: Democracy Now June 10, 2011
3 months later Japan admits Fukushima Diasaster much worst than previously
admitted. Interview with Robert Alvarez, former senior policy adviser
to the U.S. Secretary of Energy and now a senior scholar at the Institute for
Policy Studies talks about dangers of nuclear storage in the United States.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Almost three months after the earthquake and tsunami that
triggered a nuclear disaster in Japan, government officials say they may evacuate more towns
affected by radiation. New monitoring data shows "hot spots" of elevated contamination farther away
from the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
The new hot spots were announced after authorities conceded on Monday the crisis at the stricken
nuclear power facility was far more severe than they had previously admitted. Japan’s Nuclear and
Industrial Safety Agency more than doubled its estimate for the amount of radiation that leaked
from the plant in the first week of the disaster in March. The agency has also admitted for the
first time that full nuclear meltdowns occurred at three of the plant’s reactors.
A recent law school graduate, Takanori Eto, is the first to file a lawsuit against the Japanese
government over its handling of the crisis.
TAKANORI ETO: [translated] There are dangers inherent in the government’s
nuclear policy. From the very beginning, there were also mistakes made. We also found out that,
even after the accident, the Japanese government was unable to properly protect its people. So
I decided, rather than remain silent, I needed to bring to light these lapses in judgment in a
AMY GOODMAN: That was Takanori Eto, the first person to sue the Japanese
government over its handling of the nuclear disaster.
The New York Times reports harsh economic conditions are driving laborers to Fukushima
for work at the plant despite the dangers. Earlier this week, a robot sent into the Fukushima
Daiichi nuclear power facility detected the highest levels of radiation since the onset of the
crisis. A nuclear review by the U.S. power industry, convened this week, is weighing safety
upgrades at domestic plants in the wake of Japan’s reactor crisis.
To discuss the state of nuclear power plants in Japan and the United States, we’re joined in
Washington, D.C., by Robert Alvarez, former senior policy adviser to the U.S. Secretary of Energy,
now a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies. We’re also joined in Tokyo by Aileen
Mioko Smith, executive director of the group Green Action.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Bob Alvarez, start off by talking about what we
know at this point and the fact that just this week we’re hearing there were three nuclear
meltdowns. What does this mean?
ROBERT ALVAREZ: Well, I think it means that the accident was much more prompt
and severe, and its radiological consequences are going to be—unfold in a more serious way. As you
mentioned earlier, the contamination of land nearby, or not so nearby, is proving to be quite
extensive. The reports that I’ve seen suggest that land contamination, in terms of areas that are
technically uninhabitable because of cesium-137 contamination, is roughly 600 square kilometers, or
about 17 times the size of Manhattan Island.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Aileen Mioko Smith, the reaction of the public to this
increased contamination much further on than the exclusion zone, although it’s in hot spots—what
has been the reaction to the government’s failure to make this clear early on?
AILEEN MIOKO SMITH: Well, there’s incredible concern, especially among parents
in Fukushima prefecture. But now spreading is concern among parents in Tokyo, which is quite a far
way from Fukushima. Mainly, what’s been happening is that citizens have been monitoring. And after
they find high levels, they demand that the local authorities and the government look at those
contaminated areas, and then the government looks, and it is contaminated. So it’s very much
citizen-oriented. There are people going in all the time. There are radiation monitors all over.
Parents are measuring. Mothers are measuring. University professors on weekends are measuring.
AMY GOODMAN: And a new study is being done by the prefecture, Aileen?
AILEEN MIOKO SMITH: Yes, we’re very concerned that a health study is starting
at the end of this month. This is concerning the effects of the Fukushima residents, on the
prefectural citizens. It’s headed by a Dr. Shunichi Yamashita, who’s at the Atomic Bomb Research
Institute. He’s the radiological health safety risk management adviser for the prefecture. He’s
widely shown on national TV. He speaks widely in the prefecture, always saying there’s absolutely
no concern with the levels of radiation in Fukushima. He says that mothers, even mothers exposed to
100 millisieverts, pregnant mothers, will not have any effect, health effect. Remember the number
100. Compared to that, the Soviet Union required a mandatory evacuation during Chernobyl at five
millisieverts. This doctor is quoted as saying, "The effects of radiation do not come to people
that are happy and laughing. They come to people that are weak-spirited, that brood and fret." This
is a direct quote. And he’s heading the study. And so, the citizens in Fukushima are very
AMY GOODMAN: Bob Alvarez, you’ve come out with a new report. What are your main
ROBERT ALVAREZ: Well, my report dealt with the vulnerabilities and hazards of
stored spent fuel at U.S. reactors in the United States. The United States shares similar designs,
reactor designs, as the Japanese reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi station. And if you watched the
accident unfold at the Daiichi station, the explosions basically showed you that the spent fuel
pools were exposed to the open sky. We, in the United States, are currently storing on the order of
three to four, five times more radioactivity in our pools than in Japan, and that the amount of
radioactivity that we are storing in unsafe, vulnerable pools constitutes the largest
concentrations of radioactivity on the planet.
In 2008, my colleagues and I issued a report, an in-depth study, following the 9/11 attacks. We
became very concerned about the vulnerability of these pools after those attacks, and we pointed
out that if somebody or something were to cause the water to drain, it would lead to a catastrophic
radiological fire that could render an area uninhabitable far greater than that created by
Chernobyl. Chernobyl created an area that’s currently uninhabitable that’s approximately the size
of half of the state of New Jersey.
The fact of the matter is, is that we don’t have a final resting place for these wastes. We’ve
been trying to find a disposal site for these wastes for the last 55 years. And the reality is that
these wastes are going to continue to accumulate at U.S. sites, and the reactor operators are going
to continue to squeeze spent fuel into pools that have nowhere near the level of protection of
reactors. I mean, these pools are contained in structures that you would find at car dealerships or
big box stores. And, for example, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not require the pools to
have backup diesel generators if they lose offsite power. It’s very important to keep the pools
cool, and they do pose some very, very serious risks. They are, in my opinion, the most serious
vulnerability of nuclear power that we have in the United States.
JUAN GONZALEZ: But what are the alternatives, given the fact, obviously, that
the United States government, like several other governments around the world, are determined to
continue to expand the use of nuclear power? What are the alternatives for storing the spent
ROBERT ALVAREZ: Well, I think that there are different—there’s a big difference
between plans and reality. I think that the expansion of nuclear power in this country, if it
occurs at all, is going to be rather modest and minor. We have to be concerned about the 104
reactors that are operating and the generation of that material, and that we should be doing what
Germany did 25 years ago, which is to thin out the pools, use them for the original purpose they
were intended, which is to allow the spent fuel to cool off for several years, and then to place
the spent fuel into dry, hardened storage modules. And this significantly reduces the hazards of
these spent fuel pools.
AMY GOODMAN: You say that what is recommended for expansion in the United
States is relatively minor, Bob Alvarez, but I think many were shocked that President Obama has
been pushing for something that presidents haven’t pushed for for decades. I mean, the last nuclear
power plant in this country built, what, some 30, 40 years ago. I mean, Juan, you’ve written about
President Obama, before he was president, getting a good deal of support from the nuclear industry,
and he never said he wasn’t going to push for this, but they’ve been rather quiet about it right
now, since the catastrophe in Japan.
ROBERT ALVAREZ: Well, I think a lot of this is rhetorical. I think that—I look
at it as the equivalent of throwing nuclear candy at political supporters, or even political
enemies who you’re trying to win over. The fact of the matter is, is that nuclear power is not
going to have a chance in this country, at all, unless it has unfettered access to the United
States Treasury. This is not going to happen. The House, for example, recently enacted the
appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2012 and totally spurned Obama’s request to expand loan
guarantee authority. In other words, the U.S. government would guarantee the loans, but the loans
themselves would come out of the U.S. Treasury. I don’t think that the Congress right now has the
stomach to open up the Treasury for reactors that are going to cost on the order of $10 billion
You also have to keep in mind that while he has been vocally supportive of nuclear power and has
done things like try to seek expanded loan guarantee authority, he’s also pulled the rug out from
under the nuclear industry by canceling the Yucca Mountain disposal site. And so, I think that we
have to sort out, as we do with a lot of things the President does, the difference between what he
says and what happens.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Aileen Mioko Smith, I’d like to get back to the disaster in
Japan for a moment. Greenpeace has been reporting that the contamination levels—dangerous
contamination levels in the ocean go out as—they found it as far as 50 miles out from the shore.
What has been happening with the fishing industry in Japan and the reaction to the possible
contamination of huge swaths of the ocean off the coast?
AILEEN MIOKO SMITH: Yes, the ocean contamination is very serious. There are
estimates that it’s 10 times the release that was—that compared to Chernobyl into the Baltic Sea.
So it’s very serious. And the National Fisheries Association came out very early on after the
accident demanding the closure of all nuclear power plants in Japan. This is an incredible
statement, because the industry has never been concerned about nuclear power before. Just right
now, TEPCO is—the amount of contaminated water on site is building and building, and there’s
intention to dump more. And the industry is opposing it right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Bob Alvarez, can you talk about this contamination of the
P.S. Go to this blog and read the comments which really are critical of
Alvarez bieng a non expert.
However this blog seems to supports Alvarez's assertions see below as in this clip below:
Gundersen Gives Testimony to NRC ACRS from Fairewinds Associates on Vimeo.