Finally learning the lessons of nuclear disasters

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It has been more than a year since the Japanese power company TEPCO lost control of four of its reactors at Fukushima Daichi. The earthquake of March 11, 2011, whose epicenter was located 145 km off the coast of Japan, shook the Northeast of the country. It provoked a tsunami which with waves of 10 m high submerged the nuclear installations of Fukushima. Successively, the radioactive core of reactors No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 entered into meltdown causing massive releases of radioactivity. At the same time, the deactivation pool of the shutdown Reactor No. 4, which was no longer cooled, also released large quantities of radioactive gases.

This is clearly a quadruple major accident that had to be classified at level 7 on the international scale of severity, as at Chernobyl in 1986.

The Fukushima disaster is the third warning given to a disoriented humanity

Because of the extent of its human and ecological fallout, the Fukushima accident may well prove to be even more catastrophic than the Chernobyl accident.

This disaster was however foreseeable: a serious warning had been the accident of Three Miles Island in 1979, in the United States, the country that saw the birth of the so-called peaceful nuclear industry.

The fact that the human consequences of Three Miles Island were limited, at least on the surface, may have fostered the illusion that the nuclear engineers and scientists involved could guarantee sufficient mastery of the technology for us to live with nuclear power.

The Chernobyl disaster opened the eyes of many politicians who had to admit that a highly improbable disaster was possible.

The Fukushima disaster is the third warning given to a disoriented humanity. It is not certain that it will be enough to convince « political leaders » of the absolute necessity of doing without such potentially devastating energy.

Disinformation is still alive and well

Whether it was Three Miles Island, Chernobyl or today Fukushima, the concern to protect the image of the nuclear industry has systematically prevailed to the point of distorting or hiding the facts, to the detriment of the populations concerned.

In 1979, U.S. nuclear safety officials rejected the possibility of a core meltdown, which did occur.

On this subject, let us quote Philippe Jamet, commissioner of the French National Security Agency (ASN), who expressed himself as follows in 2006 in the magazine « La Recherche »: « If the safety injection does not work, the water level in the vessel will drop further, the core will be uncovered, the fuel will heat up, the cladding that protects it will crack widely and gases and fission products will be emitted. This can lead to the melting of the reactor core. This is what happened in 1979 at Three Miles Island, in the United States. At the time, nobody believed it. It was only six years later, thanks to a probe sent into the reactor vessel, that we had proof that the core had indeed melted: you have to imagine a magma, lava at 3000 degrees. The corium, the result of the fusion of the metals in the core and the uranium fuel, had flowed down the side and reached the bottom of the tank. It did not pass through the reactor vessel, but it was probably not very far. The operators of the plant managed to save the core in extremis by injecting water late in the process. ».

Clearly, after 6 years of misinformation, it was necessary to recognize, very discreetly, disturbing facts revealing the disarray of experts in the face of unforeseen events and their ignorance of potential catastrophic scenarios.

At Chernobyl in 1986, the Soviet authorities did everything possible to cover up the extent of the disaster and prevent correct information from being disseminated. Orders were given by political leaders to the medical community to deny any link between certain pathologies and radiation exposure, especially among the 600,000 liquidators. But the international community has come to terms with this situation.

Over the years, the agencies in charge of risk assessment and radiation protection (IAEA, UNSCEAR, ICRP) have systematically minimized the health consequences of the disaster. In particular, they ignored the numerous works published by Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian scientists.

Since March 11, 2011, the day of the earthquake and tsunami that caused the loss of control of the Fukushima nuclear reactors, information from Tepco, the owner of the plant, the Japanese Safety Agency and the government have all suggested that while the situation was serious, the disaster could still be avoided. Initially assessed at level 4 on the INES scale of severity of nuclear accidents, then at level 5 (as at TMI), the accident was finally classified at level 7. The population, wrongly secured and, in any case, kept in ignorance of the real level of irradiation and contamination, was thus exposed to a radioactivity from which it could have been at least partially protected. Today, the underestimation of risks, the illusion of large-scale decontamination and the so-called cold shutdown of the accident reactors serve as a backdrop for a campaign to rehabilitate nuclear energy orchestrated by the lobby with the logical endorsement of the Japanese government and the International Nuclear Energy Agency (IAEA).

In all nuclear countries, like ours or our French neighbor, the official information coming from Japan is faithfully passed on and rarely questioned.

While the Soviet regime could rightly be accused of disinformation, concealment and lying about Chernobyl, the Japanese authorities have objectively not done any better since March 11, 2011 …

It is time to realize that the use of nuclear energy is structurally incompatible with transparency and democracy.

Impossible accidents?

The three major accidents in the history of civil nuclear power, although very different in their initial cause and in the type of reactor involved, have one essential characteristic in common: none of the three scenarios that took place had been foreseen or even envisaged by nuclear engineers and official experts.

Mentally trapped in their techno-scientific vision of the world, they relied on the probabilistic method to ignore scenarios deemed too improbable.

The fundamental flaw in such an approach is the unexplained assumption that all possible scenarios have been evaluated, which is obviously not the case, and is also practically impossible.

The stress tests carried out in Europe to « verify » the safety of reactors after the Fukushima disaster are part of the same logic of total control. They are undoubtedly interesting for pointing out easily curable weaknesses. But, a fortiori when they reject the consideration of credible hypotheses (a plane crash or an accident in a nearby high-risk factory), they are above all a smokescreen aimed at camouflaging a tragic reality: nuclear energy, whether civil or military, is intrinsically a source of humanitarian disasters. For this reason alone, nuclear power generation must be definitively and rapidly disqualified. We cannot accept the unacceptable.

Paul Lannoye

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