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Issue #1565      19 September 2012

The failed nuclear industry

On a cold wet night in Perth on September 4, 40 people attended the Uniting Church’s Queens Building to see presentations by two well known anti-nuclear activists on their visits to the vicinity of two nuclear reactor sites which had experienced reactor failure.

The first was Greens Senator Scott Ludlam who in July, at the invitation of the Japanese Greens Party, spent time meeting with officials from the Party and other anti-nuclear activist groups. Their call to Senator Ludlam was no accident in the shadow of the catastrophe at Fukushima, as the uranium ore used to power the plant came from two mines in Australia – the Ranger Mine near Kakadu National Park and the Olympic Dam mine in central South Australia.

Ludlam commenced his presentation by reminding the meeting that although the earthquake and tsunami were natural disasters, the eastern coast of Japan, in close proximity to a fault line, is a terrible place to build a nuclear reactor.

For these reasons stated Ludlam, “The National Diet of Japan Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, in its Executive Summary of a report released on July 5, 2012, acknowledged it was a profoundly man-made disaster that could have and should have been foreseen and prevented.”

This disaster led to a tsunami of 14 metres, easily overcoming the sea wall half that height and in places reaching up to 8-10 kilometres inland. While the power company TEPCO’s emergency response to the earthquake was to shutdown the reactor, it still needed a power station to supply electricity to take out 60 megawatts of heat. This power was not available and this led to a failure of the reactor. This in turn led to the fires which resulted in the release of large amounts of radioactive material into the atmosphere as well as possible cracks in the pipes supplying the coolant.

The initial exclusion zone was 20 kilometres, this was later reduced to 10 kilometres, although it will be contaminated for several hundred years.

As a consequence many people carry around their own personal radiation counters, there are public facilities to allow for the regular screening of the body for any tumours or illnesses which may occur, and shops carry signs for their fresh produce indicating that it has been certified as being within safe levels of radiation.

One big park has had top soil stripped from the ground and the bark of trees sandblasted so that children can once again play in it. The exposure to radiation is being weighed against the harm that would otherwise occur in children from vitamin D deficiencies, depression, obesity and lack of fresh air and exercise.

Japan’s previous unquestioning support for the need for nuclear power has also suffered a meltdown as a consequence of the conduct of the corporations which run the nuclear facilities, the bureaucracies which supposedly regulate and oversee their operation and the national government which has let down the Japanese people badly.

Senator Ludlam said that many people believe, “A nuclear mafia runs Japan energy industry and that their government has been complicit by corruptly accepting assurances that the industry can regulate itself.” As a consequence concluded Ludlam, “The people in Japan have risen above their normal acceptance of authoritarian rule and are starting to question their rulers in a big way with massive public rallies of tens of thousands and growing since the Diet report’s release in July.

“This questioning has been aided in no small way by Japan’s taste for having a complete shutdown of their nuclear industry for two months and conversion to gas to meet any shortfall in energy demand.”

Chernobyl, 26 years on

In August 2012, former Greens and Nuclear Disarmament Party Senator Jo Vallentine returned from a visit to sites in Russia and neighbouring Belarus that witnessed the horrors of the fallout from the only other Level 7 nuclear catastrophe that the world has seen – Chernobyl.

In Novozybkov, which is 175 kilometres from the Chernobyl reactor in Ukraine, she met with members of a community environment group called Viola. It has established community education programs to help people in radiation affected areas live with its effects.

Like their counterparts in Fukushima, these people are taught how to use radiation counters to monitor radiation levels which can vary from day to day and week to week. They attend clinics to be tested, to monitor the health of new born babies and check the safety of their food.

In the Russian town of Bryansk to the north of Novozybkov she met with people who were buying and doing up old dachas in the countryside so that people could escape the sterility and monotony of urban life and enjoy the activity, fresh air and change of environment to be found in a rural setting.

Mia Pepper, the tireless anti-uranium mining activist from the Conservation Council of Western Australia also spoke. She brought home Australia’s role in the nuclear cycle. Australia is one of the worlds leading exporters of uranium, the raw material powering these potentially lethal forms of energy generation.

Ms Pepper spoke of the decline in the popularity of nuclear energy following the accident at Fukushima and the rising costs of nuclear power generation which were also proving a barrier in many countries with the exception of China.

This had caused the suspension of the Olympic Dam mine site in South Australia as well as the Kintyre and Yeleerie Mine sites in the north east of Western Australia. The Toro Energy mine in WA, 50 kilometres from the town of Wiluna, is the only mine that has been granted environmental approval by the WA Liberal government of Premier Colin Barnett and is awaiting federal environmental approval.

The residents of Wiluna have concerns about the dust from the radioactive tailings and leaching of radioactive material into their groundwater. Also the overuse of their aquifers for use by the mine. A recently released report suggests there is only seven years of water available for the mine which might not even meet half its expected mining life.

To conclude proceedings there was a live SKYPE hook-up to Akira Kawazaki of the Japanese anti-nuclear group, Peace Boat, who spoke about the growing anti-nuclear movement in Japan. It is pushing its government to speed up and permanently phase out the nuclear industry and to replace it with renewable energy.

He called on Australian anti-nuclear groups to unite with Japanese activist groups on issues of the mining and export of uranium and on handling the tail end of the nuclear cycle, the radioactive spent fuel. Kawazaki also emphasised the need for energy conservation as well as the long-term target of increasing the development and use of renewable energy.  

Next article – Culture & Life – The failure of prohibition

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