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Is the root cause of the Fukushima disaster really “Made in Japan?”

By KARL GROSSMAN | Enformable | July 11, 2012

The conclusion of a report of a Japanese parliamentary panel issued last week that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster was rooted in government-industry “collusion” and thus was “man-made” is mirrored throughout the world. The “regulatory capture” cited by the panel is the pattern among nuclear agencies right up to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“The Fukushima nuclear power plant accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and Tepco [Tokyo Electric Power Company, the owner of the six Fukushima plants] and the lack of governance by said parties,” said the 641-page report of The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission released on July 5.

“They effectively betrayed the nation’s right to be safe from nuclear accidents. Therefore, we conclude that the accident was clearly ‘man-made,’” said the report of the panel established by the National Diet or parliament of Japan.

“We believe the root causes were the organizational and regulatory system that supported faulty rationales for decisions and actions,” it went on. “Across the board, the commission found ignorance and arrogance unforgivable for anyone or any organization that deals with nuclear power.” It said nuclear regulators in Japan and Tepco “all failed to correctly develop the most basic safety requirements.”

The chairman of the 10-member panel, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, a medical doctor, declared in the report’s introduction: “It was a profoundly man-made disaster—that could and should have been foreseen and prevented.”

He also placed blame on cultural traits in Japan. “What must be admitted—very painfully,” wrote Dr. Kurokawa, “is that this was a disaster ‘Made in Japan.’ Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture; our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the programme’; our groupism; and our insularity.”

In fact, the nuclear regulatory situation in Japan is the rule globally.

In the United States, for example, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its predecessor agency, the Atomic Energy Commission, never denied a construction or operating license for a nuclear power plant anywhere, anytime. The NRC has been busy in recent times not only giving the go-ahead to new nuclear power plant construction in the U.S. but extending the operating licenses of most of the 104 existing  plants from 40 to 60 years—although they were only designed to run for 40 years. That’s because radioactivity embrittles their metal components and degrades other parts after 40 years making the plants unsafe to operate. And the NRC is now considering extending their licenses for 80 years.

Moreover, the NRC’s chairman, Gregory Jaczko, recently resigned in the face of an assault on him by the nuclear industry and his four fellow NRC members led by William D. Magwood, IV. Magwood is typical of most NRC and AEC commissioners through the decades—a zealous promoter of nuclear power. He came to the NRC after running Advanced Energy Strategies through which he served as a consultant to various companies involved with nuclear power including many in Japan—among them Tepco.

Before that, Magwood served as director of nuclear energy for the U.S. Department of Energy. He “led the creation,” according to his NRC biography, of DOE programs pushing nuclear power, “Nuclear Power 2010” and “Generation IV.” Prior to that, he worked for the Edison Electric Institute and Westinghouse, a major nuclear power plant manufacturer.

Jaczko, although a supporter of nuclear power, with a Ph.D. in physics, repeatedly called for the NRC to apply “lessons learned” from the Fukushima disaster to its rules and actions—upsetting the industry and the other four NRC commissioners. As Jaczko declared in February as the other four NRC commissioners first approved the construction of new nuclear plants since Fukushima, giving the go-ahead to two plants in Georgia: “I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima had never happened.”

The NRC was set up to be an independent regulator of nuclear power to replace the AEC which was established by Congress under the Atomic Energy Act of 1946. The AEC was given the dual missions of promoting and regulating nuclear power—a conflict of interest, Congress realized in 1974, so it eliminated the AEC and created the NRC as regulator and, later, the Department of Energy as promoter of nuclear power. But both the NRC and DOE have ended up pushing nuclear power with revolving doors between them and the government’s national nuclear laboratories—and the nuclear industry.

The International Atomic Energy Agency was established as an international version of the AEC by the United Nations after a speech made at it by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953 in which he espoused “Atoms for Peace.”  Its dual missions are serving as a monitor of nuclear technology globally while also seeking “to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world.”

Its first director general was Sterling Cole who as a U.S. congressman was a big booster of nuclear power. Later came Hans Blix after he led a move in his native Sweden against an effort to close nuclear plants there. Blix was outspoken in seeking to spread nuclear power internationally calling for “resolute response by government, acting individually or together as in the [IAE] Agency.”

Blix’s long-time IAEA second-in command was Morris Rosen—formerly of the AEC and before that the nuclear division of General Electric (which manufactured the Fukushima plants)—who said after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster: “There is very little doubt that nuclear power is a rather benign industrial enterprise and we may have to expect catastrophic accidents from time to time.”

Mohamed ElBaradei of Egypt followed Blix, and as he told an “International Conference on Nuclear Power for the 21st Century” organized by the IAEA in 2005: “There is clearly a sense of rising expectations for nuclear power.”

The current IAEA director general is Yukiya Amano of Japan. In Vienna at the heaquarters of the IAEA, marking the first anniversary of the Fukushima disaster in March, Amano said: “Nuclear power is now safer than it was a year ago.”

Really?

Shuya Nomura, a member of the Japanese investigation commission and a professor at the Chuo Law School, was quoted in the New York Times as saying that the panel’s report tried to “shed light on Japan’s wider structural problems, on the pus that pervades Japanese society.” And, noted the Times, he added, “This report contains hints on how Japanese society needs to change.”

Those “wider structural problems” are far wider than Japan—they are global. The “regulatory capture” cited in the Japanese panel’s report has occurred all over the world—with the nuclear industry and those promoting nuclear power in governments making sure that the nuclear foxes are in charge of the nuclear hen houses. The “pus that pervades Japanese society” is international. With some very important exceptions, people have not adequately taken on the nuclear authorities. And we all must.  The nuclear promoters have set up a corrupt system to enable them to get their way with their deadly technology. They have lied, they have connived, they have distorted governments. The nuclear industry is thus allowed to do whatever it wants. The nuclear pushers must be firmly challenged and they and nuclear power must be stopped.

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

July 12, 2012 Posted by | Deception, Nuclear Power, Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Comments Off on Is the root cause of the Fukushima disaster really “Made in Japan?”

The Nuclear Cult

Zealots of the Atom

By KARL GROSSMAN | CounterPunch | June 18, 2012

Nuclear scientists and engineers embrace nuclear power like a religion. The term “nuclear priesthood” was coined by Dr. Alvin Weinberg, long director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the laboratory’s website proudly notes this.  It’s not unusual for scientists at Oak Ridge and other U.S. national nuclear laboratories to refer to themselves as “nukies.” The Oak Ridge website describes Weinberg as a “prophet” of “nuclear energy.”

This religious, cultish element is integral to a report done for the U.S. Department of Energy in 1984 by Battelle Memorial Institute about how the location of nuclear waste sites can be communicated over the ages. An “atomic priesthood,” it recommends, could impart the locations in a “legend-and-ritual…retold year-by-year.” Titled “Communications Measures to Bridge Ten Millennia,” the taxpayer-funded report says: “Membership in this ‘priesthood’ would be self-selective over time.”

Currently, Allison Macfarlane, nominated to be the new head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, says she is an “agnostic” on nuclear power—as if support or opposition to atomic energy falls on a religious spectrum.  Meanwhile, Gregory Jaczko, the outgoing NRC chairman, with a Ph.D. in physics, was politically crucified because he repeatedly raised safety concerns, thus not revering nuclear power enough.

Years ago, while I was working on a book about toxic chemicals, the publisher asked that I find someone who worked for a chemical company and get his or her rationale. I found someone who had been at American Cyanamid, the pesticide manufacturer, who said he worked there to better support his growing family financially.

But when it comes to nuclear power, it’s more than that—it’s a religious adherence. Why?  Does it have to do with nuclear scientists and engineers being in such close proximity to  power, literally?  Is it about the process through which they are trained—in the U.S., many in the nuclear navy and/or in the insular culture of the government’s national nuclear laboratories? These laboratories, originally under the Atomic Energy Commission and now the Department of Energy and managed by corporations, universities and scientific entities including Battelle Memorial Institute, grew out of the World War II Manhattan Project crash program to build atomic bombs. After the war, the laboratories expanded to pursue the development of all things nuclear. And is it about nuclear physics programs at universities serving as echo chambers?

Whatever the causes, the outcome is nuclear worship.

And this is despite the Chernobyl or Fukushima Daiichi catastrophes. It’s despite the radioactive messes exposed at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons production facility and at Los Alamos and other national nuclear laboratories most of which have been declared high-pollution Superfund sites where cancer on-site and in adjoining areas is widespread. It’s despite the  continuing threat of nuclear war and the horrific loss of life it would bring and nuclear proliferation spreading the potential for atomic weapons globally. Still, they press on with religious fervor.

“Most of them are not educated about radiation biology or genetics, so they are fundamentally ignorant,” says Dr. Helen Caldicott, a founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility whose books include Nuclear Madness. “They are ‘brought up’ in an environment where they are conditioned to support the concept of all things nuclear.” Further, “nuclear power evokes enormous forces of the universe, and as Henry Kissinger said, ‘Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” And “they practice denial because I think many of them in their heart really know that what they are doing is evil but they will defend it assiduously, unless they themselves or their child is diagnosed with cancer. Then many of them recant.”

Linking the “nuclear priesthood” to the Manhattan Project is Michael Mariotte, executive director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service. “The scientists involved weren’t really sure what they were unleashing, and had to have a certain amount of faith that it would work and it would not destroy the world in the process. After they saw the destructive power of the bomb, they were both proud and horrified at what they had done, and believed they had to use this technology for ‘good.’ Thus nuclear power was born,” says Mariotte. “The problem is when you have this messianic vision that you are creating good out of evil, it is very difficult to turn around and realize that the ‘good’ you have created is, in fact, also evil.”

Kevin Kamps, radioactive waste watchdog at Beyond Nuclear, says ever since the first test of an atomic device, “the diabolically-named ‘Trinity’ atomic blast, when Manhattan Project scientists placed bets on whether or not it would ignite the Earth’s atmosphere, it’s been clear something pathological afflicts many in the ‘nuclear priesthood.’ Perhaps it’s a form of ‘Faustian fission’—splitting the atom gave the U.S. superpower status with the Bomb and then over a 100 commercial atomic reactors, so the ‘downsides’ have been entirely downplayed to the point of downright denial. Perhaps the power, prestige and greed swirling around the ‘nuclear enterprise’ explains why so many in industry, government, the military, and even apologists in academia and mainstream media, engage in Orwellian ‘Nukespeak’ and monumental cover ups….The ‘cult of the atom’ has caused untold numbers of deaths and disease downstream, downwind, up the food chain, and down the generations from ‘our friend the atom’ gone bad.”

A parallel situation exists in Russia, the other nuclear superpower. Dr. Alexey Yablokov, a biologist, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and environmental advisor to Presidents Yeltsin and Gorbachev, says the nuclear scientists there refer to themselves as “atomschiky” or “nuclearists” and “think and act as a separate, isolated caste.” From the beginning of nuclear technology in the Soviet Union, they “were enthusiastic about the great, the fantastic discoveries of splitting the atom and developing enormous power. This ‘secret knowledge’ was magnified by state secrecy and a deep belief—in the Soviet Union as in the United States—of atomic energy ‘saving the globe’… There is a remarkable similarity in the argumentation of these groups here and in the United States. Step-by-step, they turned to an atomic religion, closed societies, a ‘state inside a state.’”

Dr. Heidi Huttner, who teaches sustainability at Stony Brook University, explains:

“As in so many parts of our industrialized and mechanized culture, there is no thought of consequences, or connections to the larger web of science, health, and human and nonhuman life… The nuclear culture becomes absolutely caught up in its own language and story. This self-enclosure feeds, validates and perpetuates itself. Without an outside critique or ‘objective’ third eye, any such culture loses the ability to self-regulate and self-monitor.  This is where things become dangerous.”

Russell Ace Hoffman, author of The Code Killers, Why DNA and Ionizing Radiation Are a Dangerous Mix, says: “It is a cult. It fits all the classic definitions of a cult. It’s an elitist, war-mongering, closed society of inbred, inwardly-thinking, aggressively xenophobic, arrogant pseudo-nerds stuck in ideas that are at least half a century out of date… Another cult-like behavior is they don’t care about the suffering of their victims.  Not one bit.”

Dr. Barbara Rose Johnston, an anthropologist and senior research fellow at the Center for Political Ecology in Santa Cruz, recounts spending three days at a U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored conference for people involved in the atmospheric monitoring program at the nuclear weapons test site in Nevada. “Many of the scientists and technicians in attendance were from southern Utah and St. Georges County area where the heaviest atomic fallout from the Nevada test site occurred… I did not find a single man who saw a connection between fallout and cancer rates, despite the fact that most had suffered. My initial reaction was that these folks truly ‘drank the Kool-Aid’—true believers through and through.”

“The nuclear industry requires buying into an orthodoxy,” explains nuclear engineer Arnie Gunderson. “I know, as I was in it as a senior VP.” He tells of how, after he voiced concerns and criticism, an industry lawyer “told me, ‘Arnie, in this industry, you are either for us or against us, and you just crossed the line.’ The same thing happened to [outgoing NRC Chairman] Jaczko  I know of one nuclear engineer with 40 years of experience who committed suicide five days after Fukushima because he simply could not accept that his life’s work was based on erroneous assumptions.  He had worked on the Mark 1 design [the GE design of the Fukushima Daicchi plants].”

Alice Slater, New York representative of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, says the “nuclear scientists are out of touch with reality. They talk about ‘risk assessment’—as though the dreadful, disastrous events at Chernobyl and Fukushima are capable of being weighed on a scale of ‘risks and benefits.’ They’re constantly refining their nuclear weapons—Congress has budgeted $84 billion for over the next 10 years to maintain the … ’reliability of the nuclear arsenal,’ and $100 billion for new ‘delivery systems’—missiles, submarines and airplanes. After the horrendous effects on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, everyone knows these catastrophic weapons are unusable and yet we’re pouring all this money into perpetuating the national nuclear weapons laboratories. They’re not including the Earth in their calculations and the enormous damage they are doing. They’re involved in the worst possible inventions with lethal consequences that last for eternity. Still, they continue on. They’re holding our planet hostage while they tinker in their labs without regard to the risks they are creating for the very future of life on Earth.”

Dr. Chris Busby of the Health and Life Sciences faculty at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland and author of Wings of Death, Nuclear Pollution and Human Health, says:

“What we are seeing with nuclear scientists is a desperate need to control their environment and their lives and the forces that may affect their lives by creating a virtual universe which they can deal with by mathematics and by drawing straight lines on paper.”

It’s the “cult of the nuclearists,” says Busby. And this construct of the nuclear scientists seeking to “control nature with mathematical equations that make them feel safe” sets up a “collision with reality”—and a “way we are going to destroy ourselves.”  The belief in nuclear power is “far beyond anything scientific or rational,” says Busby, who has a Ph.D. in chemical physics.

Joseph Mangano, executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, says the “religious passion for nuclear technology” started with the “guilt” of those in the Manhattan Project. “Those in the ‘nuclear priesthood’ knew that these horrible bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives and they wanted to make up for that… They developed atomic energy for warfare and then thought it had other uses—and they would do anything to make that work.” But the civilian nuclear technology they devised was also deadly, and this realization was too “devastating to be accepted” by the “nuclear originators” or those who followed who “spend their days with their buddies, their colleagues, all thinking the same way.”

Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, scientific director of the Manhattan Project, in his 1955 book The Open Mind, wrote: “The physicists felt a peculiarly intimate responsibility for suggesting, for supporting, and in the end, in large measure, for achieving the realization of atomic weapons…. In some sort of crude sense…the physicists have known sin.”

Whether out of indoctrination, misguided belief, an obsession to “control nature,” the lure of the cult, closeness to power, job security, or their seeking to perpetuate a vested interest, the “nuclearists” have a religious allegiance to their technology. On a moral level, they have indeed sinned—and continue to do so. On a political level, they have corrupted and distorted energy policy in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. On an economic level, they are wasting a gargantuan portion of our tax dollars.

Choices of energy technology should be based on the technology being safe, clean, economic and in harmony with life. Instead, we are up against nuclear scientists and engineers pushing their deadly technology in the manner of religious zealots.

~

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

June 18, 2012 Posted by | Economics, Militarism, Nuclear Power, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , | Comments Off on The Nuclear Cult

The Plot to Oust America’s Nuclear Watchdog

By ANDREW COCKBURN | CounterPunch | December 15, 2011

In what may well be a temporary aberration, the Obama Administration appears to be sticking by Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko, even though the nuclear industry most definitely wants him out.  The current assault on Jaczko has come in the form of a “confidential” letter from Jaczko’s four fellow commissioners sent in October  to White House Chief of Staff William Daley complaining that the NRC Chairman pays scant attention to their views and generally runs the Commission as a one man show.  Should the attack succeed, the new Chairman will most likely be William Magwood, long a tireless promoter of nuclear power as Director of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Nuclear Energy where he promoted the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, a program to restart reprocessing of nuclear waste.

Obama himself has had a long and unpleasing record of engagement with the nuclear industry, notably the Exelon Corporation, which has been making generous provision to Obama’s campaign chest ever since his days in the Illinois Senate, where he performed various useful services on the corporation’s behalf.  It should therefore have come as no surprise that when a vacancy arose on the NRC board early in his administration, Obama nominated Magwood.

The nomination was opposed by over a hundred organizations which vainly cited Magwood’s shameful record as a tout for the industry he was now supposed to regulate.  Once installed early in 2010, he showed every sign of a zealous commitment to advancing the priorities of the nuclear power industry.

Back in those happy pre-Fukushima days, the future appeared bright for nuclear power. The public obloquy that followed Three Mile Island, condemning the industry to years of stagnation, was at last dissipating, thanks to artful invocation of the specter of global warming and concurrent recasting of nuclear power as a “clean” energy source and toast of the environmental movement.

One problem remained: longterm disposal of high level nuclear waste.  In 1987 it had seemed that this particular issue had been settled with the passage in Congress of the “Screw Nevada” bill nominating Yucca Mountain, 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas, as the sole suitable site that could be considered for the permanent interment of 72,000 tons of lethal waste currently stored at reactors around the country.  The selection had little scientific validity, given that the site marks the juncture of two seismic fault lines and in any case is volcanically active and composed of porous rock, through which flows drinking water for one of Nevada’s most important farming areas, as well as an Indian reservation.  The mountain is also sacred to the Western Shoshone people.

Opposing the infamous bill was freshman Senator Harry Reid.  Outraged and humiliated by the way that legislators from Washington state and Texas, the two other nominees for a waste site, had effectively consigned Nevada to be the radioactive trash dump, Reid, a former amateur boxer, remarked that “sometimes you have to go round the back of the bar” to finish a fight.

In ensuing years, as the construction crews tunneled away into the depths of the mountain, Reid took several initiatives to ensure that Yucca Mountain never opened for business.  First, he advanced through the Democratic leadership to become Majority Leader in 2006.  Second, he maneuvered successfully to move Nevada’s Democratic caucuses to January, thus rendering them potentially crucial in the nomination race.  This had the natural consequence of generating fervent pledges from Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton in 2008 that, so long as there was breath in their bodies, Yucca Mountain would never hold nuclear waste.  Thirdly, Reid recruited as his appropriations director and science policy adviser Gregory Jaczko, a former aide to  veteran anti-nuke congressman Ed Markey.  Fourth, he induced George W. Bush in 2005, to nominate Jaczko as a Commissioner to the NRC in exchange for dropping Democratic opposition to a number of federal judgeships.  Following Obama’s presidential victory, Reid demanded and secured Jaczko’s appointment as Chairman of the NRC.

Once at the helm, Jaczko moved with commendable dispatch to shut down Yucca Mountain once and for all even while fellow commissioners  echoed the nuclear industry in pushing for a mere suspension of the project.  Then came the Fukushima disaster. As the reactor buildings  exploded and US military radiation monitors in Japan ticked remorselessly upwards, the US government began to panic.  “I’ve lived through many crises in the decades I’ve been in government,” one national security official intimately involved in the Fukushima response told me, “but this was the most frightening week of my professional life, by far.  We thought we were going to lose half of Japan.”

While the Japanese government reacted to the catastrophe with criminal quiescence – enjoining evacuation merely from an area within 12 miles of the plant – Jaczko took more decisive action, telling Americans within 50 miles to move out. This was anathema to the industry, a sentiment emphatically  mirrored in the four commissioners’ letter of complaint to the White House.  Further initiatives irksome to Magwood and the others included a push to enjoin additional safety measures on US reactor operators in light of Fukushima.

“He’s not ‘our guy’ by any means, he has voted to re-license plants that should probably be shut down” says Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear.  “But he does care about safety, in ways that the others do not.”

So far at least, the White House, conscious no doubt of Nevada’s electoral votes, is backing Jaczko.  But, even while Jaczko confronts his assailants, a Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future has been chewing on the problem of what to do with the radioactive waste filling up pools at reactors around the U.S..  Headed by that perennial placeman, former congressman Lee Hamilton, the commissioners include Obama’s old pal, Exelon CEO John Rowe, who, as Beyond Nuclear’s Kamps points out, “has created more nuclear waste than anyone else in America.”

Senator Reid’s work may not yet be done.

ANDREW COCKBURN is the co-producer of the feature documentary on the financial catastrophe American Casino.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. He can be reached at amcockburn@gmail.com

~~~

Update:

US: Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Jaczko Steps Down

Act against corporate interests, and become a target for personal destruction.

Huffington Post | May 22, 2012

WASHINGTON — Under a withering assault from the industry, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko is stepping down, effective upon the confirmation of his successor, according to a statement from Jaczko.

The resignation follows months of bureaucratic knife-wielding by the four industry-backed members of the five-person panel. Like something out of Dumas, the passionate infighting stretched back decades. The industry effort was spearheaded by Democratic Commissioner Bill Magwood. […]

HuffPost reported that Magwood, who spent his career moving in and out of the private sector, had done nuclear safety consulting for the company that owns the Fukushima nuclear power plant. … Read full article

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NRC Oversight Hearing, Dec. 14, 2011

December 15, 2011 Posted by | Nuclear Power | , , , , , | 3 Comments